Return of the Kozmonauts

“Marvin. You’re up early. What’s with the outfit, you guys folded weeks ago.”

“Don’t mean I have to  stop ridin. My legs are still pumpin, no mechanical issues with the bike, I can ride forever, I’m the Flyin Dutchmahn.” 

…His shift used to begin at nightfall, and from then till dawn he’d be out on his orange fixed-gear track bike delivering donuts, ice cream, and videotapes, guaranteed to arrive within the hour, to the all-night community of dopers, hackers, instant-gratification cases who thought the dotcom balloon would ascend forever.

We have discussed Marvin’s character and what he represents for the story or for Maxine, but the uncannily useful delivery boy’s employer is also worth spending some time on. Now, I may be too young or just under educated (or maybe a combination of both), but until discussed in class I was totally under the impression that the midnight essential bike delivery service was a Pynchonian creation for comic relief or to serve as a satire on some other cultural facet I was unaware of. Silly me. Silly is hardly the appropriate word.

The first search just exploded. I almost was embarrassed for being so negligent in my understanding. Kozmo.com aka the poster child for the dot com bubble. The most frequently used words in the search results: disaster, awful, infamous, doomed. Man, the 90’s were so cool, you could get movies and ice-cream delivered to your house. And just when I start to get really down about being born too late to appreciate such a service, I remember Netflix and Amazon Prime and GrubHub and Tapingo. I got a milkshake delivered to my house yesterday, but that is completely besides the point. Although maybe not entirely…we’ll approach that later. Kozmo.com was just as Maxine describes it really, a one-hour delivery service supplying citizens of Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Boston, New York, Washington D.C., San Diego and Los Angeles with whatever messenger-bag-sized essentials and non-essentials they so desired.

The business founded by Joseph Park and Yong Kang was questioned nearly moments after being launched, right around the time it took the internet by storm. But how would they make make money? What would growth even look like? They charged retail price and offered free delivery, claiming that by not having to rent retail space they would make their profit. Much like Maxine said, as long as people were receiving their Ben & Jerry’s they didn’t ask many questions and hoped the “balloon would ascend forever.” Joseph Park’s personal resume was one thing that intrigued me during my research. After the investment banker’s three year old “instant-gratification” company (aka kozmo.com) tanked, he co-founded Askville. Seven years later, that one also was shut down. Park left Amazon to take office as president of biblegateway.com. He just seems like a passionate man of many interests.

Later in the book, Marvin sells his uniform on eBay, to “get with the times”. Someone must have scooped up Marvin’s messenger, but some Kozmo slipper socks go for $25 NWOT and an apron in excellent condition could be yours for $85.(But if you’re looking for your own kozmonaut messenger bag you’re in luck.) However, maybe he shouldn’t have been so quick to sell, as it was recently announced that the site is looking to make an encore appearance. Back to my milkshake that I spoke of earlier, answering the door to a man on a bike pulling my order out of a gnarly looking backpack, I wondered how that transaction was any different than those with kozmo.com (though I was slightly disappointed that he didn’t have a flash drive for me). And the answer is it really isn’t, and the very passionate and diversely interested Joseph Park really isn’t wrong for believing his business would succeed in a second go-around. He was just ahead of his time. People were much more weary of handing over personal information like a credit card number or address. Smartphone use was nothing comparable to where it is now. And, not to mention, it is already being done. I came across WunWun, a service available in the Hamptons, New York City and San Francisco, that is basically kozmo.com with a steep delivery fee and sleek interface.

Close reading the same passage with this information gives much more weight to Pynchon’s choice. It portrays a type of naivety that people possessed, retrospectively, for the steep and quick rise and fall of the concept of instant gratification that technology could provide. It furthers Pynchon’s point of this “having an answer but no instructions”, this truth that we have the technology before we are prepared or know how to use it. The technology for kozmo was there, but the brain power of the man behind it and those receiving it was not up to speed. The novel provides us a sort of rear-view mirror to clearly see how our lives were lived in retrospect. Not only that, but by switching out the state-of-the-art tech and cultural references of 2001 with that of 2015, the story would stay perfectly intact. It is here that I saw just how genius Pynchon’s writing was, in being able to create such a specific novel that manages to also capture the cyclical nature of history and human kind, the “reverting to childhood instead of growing up”. Thinking about the novel in this way is somewhat concerning yet enlightening, which I do believe Pynchon intends. We have no idea what the technologies surrounding us are capable of, and in 14 years we will laugh at how naive and unaware we were back then.

Pynchon gives Marvin the uncanny ability to provide Maxine with exactly what she needs when she needs it without her even knowing as almost a prediction of where technology could go. Though it seems almost magic, with the amount of personal information we constantly put out into fitness trackers and social media sites and calendars and journals and our search histories and location services coupled with the way things are heading, I cannot say it would be impossible to find a way to know what someone would need before they asked for it. I mean, I can’t browse for boots or bathing suits without every banner and side bar ad of sites I visit post-window shopping reminding me of the shoes I used every bit of my self-control to pass on. Very long story short (sorry), reading with this information adds a whole new layer to the onion that is Bleeding Edge.

Resources:

Bensinger, Greg. “In Kozmo.com’s Failure, Lessons for Same-Day Delivery.” Digits – Wall Street Journal. Dow Jones Company, 3 Dec. 2012. Web. 23 Feb. 2015.
“Joseph Park.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 2 Apr. 2014. Web. 23 Feb. 2015.
Kirsner, Scott. “From the Archives: Riding along with Kozmo.com in Boston, in March 2000.”Boston.com. Boston Globe Media Partners, 5 Apr. 2013. Web. 23 Feb. 2015.
Yglesias, Matthew. “Kozmo.com Is Making a Comeback, and It Just Might Work.” Slate. The Slate Group, 25 Sept. 2013. Web. 23 Feb. 2015.
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About glupinetti

just a kid out here trying to make it.
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