Hi there,

Below you will find my proposal (I have only removed the bibliography section).  I would love to explore some collaboration areas. For example, I see both, pigeons and delivery guys as messengers. While food delivery is in a constant search for timesaving opportunities (the “now”, disposable), pigeons appeal to a nostalgic view of preservation where time is not at stake.

See you in class,

Ariana

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His name is Carlos, and he is originally from Mexico. He has been living in New York for the past eight years. Carlos delivers food for a small restaurant in the West Village.  Food delivery is his full-time job. His work inputs consist of: (1) a bag containing food, eating utensils, napkins, and a take-out menu, (2) a receipt, which includes an address and the name and phone of the food recipient, and (3) change. His work output: the successful delivery of food. In his toolkit, there is (1) a bike, (2) a cell phone, and (3) a white garment. Carlos jumps onto his bike. He does not need driving directions, as he is familiar with the area. He looks for shortcuts, and rides through some red lights. More deliveries mean more tips. Sometimes he calls the customers directly. The Village can be an intricate labyrinth. For the past five years, Carlos has been delivering the same order to the same old man. However, he is not “Carlos” for his customer, but rather a familiar stranger: He is the delivery guy. Then, he rides back to the restaurant to start the delivery circuit once and again.

“Nothing is more characteristic of urban life than the fact that we often gain extreme familiarity with the faces of a number of persons,
yet never interact with them” (Milgram 68).

About the Subject of Study

We are currently living in the era of the now, where communications are nearly instantaneous. The message contained in a letter, for example, has turned into an electronic note, one that can no longer wait for the sender and receiver to get access to a computer; a message that is now transmitted from and received on portable devices on real-time. Communication technologies allow communicants to transmit their thoughts – in the form of text, fix and moving images, or sounds – through the invisible and quasi-magical paths of the Net. Some texts, however, keep their physicality intact. This is the case of the sensorial attributes of smells and tastes. This is the particular case of food and its delivery in the era of the now.

About the Project

The latest developments in communication technologies have also reached the sphere of food delivery. Customers can now place orders from the convenience of their handled devices. Wherever and whenever, all they need is desire for food, a means of payment, and communications equipment. The innovations in communications technologies have mainly improved efficiency.  For the hungry consumer, new technologies offer (1) convenience (e.g. order food wherever you are and use the payment method of your choice), (2) options (e.g. access to a variety of places and food types from a single entry point), and (3) power to make informed decisions (e.g. compare prices and estimated delivery times on real-time). For the retailer, new communication technologies offer (1) proper tracking (e.g. record keeping), (2) relationship-building opportunities (e.g. recommendations to customers based on previous orders), (3) improved operations (e.g. systematic processes), and (4) avoidance of misunderstandings (e.g. improvements in customer satisfaction). Despite of all these mechanized enhancements, the role of the delivery guy – an irreplaceable constituent of the food delivery chain – adds a dose of unpredictability to the food delivery process. We do not count with pneumatic tubes able to deliver burgers door-to-door, or an app that satiates our appetites – yet.

My research will be confined to the scope of restaurant-to-consumer transactions. By excluding the manufacturers-to-wholesalers and the wholesalers-to-consumers dealings, I will be able to center the study on the delivery guy, and to map his daily cycled itineraries.

My project will aim to discover how the restaurant-to-consumer food delivery service has benefited from the latest developments in communication technologies.  It will also describe where the limits to “time-savings” are, in an era where instantaneity seems to be the goal to achieve.

As I complete my field research on the subject, I expect to stumble upon key discussions in media studies – in particular, issues of gender and ethnicity representation. Food delivery is a male-dominated occupation, and delivery guys are almost exclusively from less-developed countries. My project will try to identify the reasons for this service to be unconceivable for women, and the lack of motivations from American workers to sign-up for this type of work. Consequently, I am especially interested in unearthing the semiotics of food delivery.

Methodology

A descriptive study of food delivery systems will be conducted first. I will examine the evolution of this restaurant-to-consumer service, from the days of the phone orders and post-it notes to the current dotcom transactions. I will map out processes and circuits, from the initiation of the order to the completion of the delivery. I will approach the study under the assumption that in order to understand the role of the delivery guys, it is necessary to understand the system itself. To this end, I propose to use a variety of research strategies.

My excavation will encompass the delivery of food in the Washington Square area of New York City. I will aim to cover the stories and daily rides of, at least, five delivery guys in the area. On-site observations of all kinds of food delivery systems will be completed. I will select restaurants that adhere to different methods, from the old-fashioned orders placed over the phone to the latest platforms for food ordering and GPS “how-to-get-there” mapping technologies. Among the elements to be observed are the uses of communications media, the process and its rules, its aesthetics, and relevant players.

I might consider assuming the role of a food delivery person myself, and signing-up for a food delivery position in the area. Being part of the discourse will give me the unique opportunity to gain invaluable insights.

Interviews will also be conducted. Interviewees will include restaurant owners, waiters/waitresses, delivery guys, transit guards, doormen, end-customers and food historians (for example, Barbara Haber).

I also plan to visit the NY Food Museum and contact their researchers, who will probably guide me in the right direction. Archival imagery will be researched, to compare new and old technologies, aesthetics, and delivery circuits.

Finally, I will explore the services offered by Websites such as SeamlessWeb and GrubHub.

Bibliography, Media Assets and Requests

As I am surfing through the available research on food delivery history, surprisingly, I have found no specific references on scholarly journals. Interestingly, I have found that much has been written about early Chinese take-out, and that the early days in food delivery may be traced back to the journeys of New York’s pushcart vendors.  Most sources I will investigate will include articles in periodicals.

Text and imagery might be complemented with short-video captures. Original photography will be supplemented with archival imagery. Subjects of photography will include delivery guys, their bikes, computer and mobile screens displaying orders, restaurant kitchens, and the moment of delivery.