Platform-based technology companies which provide delivery and logistics services are among the biggest beneficiaries of the COVID-19 pandemic. Delivery orders in Wuhan, China, according to data from Alibaba, jumped five-fold during the lockdown (23 January to 8 April 2020), and the average distance of riders’ daily travel more than tripled. These companies are selling movements. Or, more precisely, they’re selling you the service of having someone else move on your behalf. An Alibaba report estimates that a single rider enables 24 residents to stay at home. The mobility business is rapidly expanding. In April 2020, Didi China began to run all kinds of errands for consumers that involve physical movements. This is aptly named "running leg" service, which is now a generic term in the industry. Reports from business consultancies predict that the "running leg" will grow fast, ranging from queueing to taking care of pets. Will we continue "outsourcing" our mobilities to a new army of specialist mobility labour?
Biao Xiang is Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Oxford, and Director of Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology in Germany.