Field Trip

17 April 2021, Shenzhen, Guangzhou



Payne Zhu

The programmers who optimize a platform’s algorithms for robustness, the influencers excitedly selling products into a camera, and the delivery drivers who race against time and weave through traffic lights collectively keep the internet economy flourishing, and platform-based matching connects everyone and everything. The eventual method of discarding people and things is extremely pornographic, presaging the future of matching and platform capitalism. Driven by profit maximization, the greatest loss in the move from competition to monopolization will be precisely the individualization advertised by every internet platform.

This is obvious in food delivery platforms. Faced with food cost pressures, decision-makers in the supply chain chose to do away with kitchens and cooks, which led to the emergence of centralized kitchens and prepared foods. On the other end, restaurant customers manipulated by algorithmic recommendations have gradually lost their judgment about food, which is a fundamental loss. But everyone connected by the platform does not understand cooking or nutrition. Delicious food is not a product in itself; instead, the smoothness of the platform operation kept by the programmers, the smoothness of the restaurant operation kept by the restaurant staff, and the smoothness of the deliveries operation kept by drivers are products. This reminds me of something Paul B. Preciado noted in Testo Junkie: “In the milieu of professional sports, as in that of sex work, the problem is not the sale of the body, contrary to the affirmation of abolitionist feminists and Protestant and Catholic fundamentalists. Work in the post-Fordist society is always and in every case the sale of the force of communication and excitation produced by a living body—the sale of that body’s potentia gaudendi.” [1]

This isn’t so strange. Why do you feel as if you’ve gone back to college when you set foot in the headquarters of any internet company? Why is everyone working there under the age of 35? Why do delivery people seem like athletes when you see them on the street? Didi looks for drivers and riders that are near one another and matches them, and matches a restaurant to a driver to a diner. Optimized and efficient matching is the foundation for the entire internet economy. The world’s most valuable internet companies have created a world of perfectly efficient matches for us. However, this blind pursuit of efficient, optimized matching leads to the lack of the essence and emphasizes the misunderstanding that all matching should be efficient and fast. My biggest takeaway from this field study is that we are losing out on an abundance of possible matches.

[1] Paul B. Preciado, Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs, and Biopolitics in the Pharmacopornographic Era, trans. Bruce Benderson (New York: The Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 2013), 285.

Payne Zhu was born in 1990 in Shanghai, and graduated from Shanghai University of International Business and Economics. He critically investigates the authority mechanism that leads the rheology of finance, body, image, and becomes an exile or a rule-breaker, revealing or creating conflicts that are often hidden behind these systems.

About Field Trip

Field Trip consists of a series of interdisciplinary site visits, dialogues, and surveys around the subject of research, making its report an essential part of observing media ecology.