The rise of the SAAMR – Startup As A Mom Replacement – and why that’s a problem

Silicon Valley man-babies are investing huge amounts of time and money to paper over their personal failings

I’m a media critic and, while reading the British newspapers yesterday, I stumbled across a story about a recipe box startup called Mindful Chef – the kind of name Charlie Brooker would lazily give a food dispensary in a clunky Black Mirror dystopia – is likely to be sold to Nestlé for £50 million. Learning of this rumour made me cascade down into a kind of mini-breakdown as I remembered once again that idiots are being richly rewarded in the insane structure that passes for a world economy.

Meal and recipe kit companies are just one example of a wider trend driven by the pissy pants man babies who drive tech company development as founders and fund those tech companies as ‘wise’ old venture capitalists.

From Uber – which started because Travis Kalanick wanted a mom on demand to drive him places – to any number of startups that are designed to deliver a human to you to do basic tasks that you should have been taught to do when you were 13, the rise of the SAAMR (Startup As A Mom/Mum Replacement) has been unstoppable.

Before I get properly started, let me note that, of course, many of these startups are actually hugely useful for people with specific accessibility needs who benefit from access to easy-to-cook meals as well as the ability to summon assistance with household tasks, and transport when required. For my late friend Lucy, who had a profound chronic condition, being able to order things to her home almost instantly helped her lead a far more independent life.

However, the valuation of these companies – multi- multi- millions – is down to a wider issue: An infantilisation of people in general. The device in your hand can become a pacifier (or dummy to those of us who grew up in Britain) as much as it can be a tool.

SAAMRs – an idea I first encountered in my partner Dr Kate Devlin’s work on how humans relate to and interact with robots and AI – are so common and so highly valued because a huge number of the men (and it usually men) pushing these companies are man children. For more in this read her book Turned On.

The success of recipe box companies comes from the same underlying tension that has made meal replacements such as Huel and Soylent so popular among the tech bro community. Making nutritionally-balanced meals is a “mom job” in the minds of these men and uses up time they could spend on their ‘very smart man’ activities. They contract an SAAMR to do the work for them and deliver boxes of mush to be consumed in-between ‘ideation sessions’ and patronising women.

The big problem with SAAMRs though is that they rely heavily on both precarious labour – humans who get ignored by consumers in these systems – and complex logistics networks – which are very fragile as the current pandemic has illustrated. If things get much worse over the next 10 to 20 years – and I think they will – a generation of (mostly) men are going to be in serious trouble, when they’re finally made to leave home properly, separated from the army of SAAMRs who have been keeping them alive, latched to an enormous tech teat.

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Writer, editor and internet arguer.

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