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Lisa Serradilla loved taking her Pilates classes virtual over Zoom. But the same technology forces that let her stay in business during the pandemic also burdened her with more costs and complexity.
Serradilla’s experience is a window into the complicated ways our increasingly digital lives are affecting business owners large and (especially) small. Technology is creating more opportunities for them, but it’s also making it tougher to make money and keep people loyal.
Three months ago, Serradilla was forced to close Pilatium, her Pilates studio in New York City, because of the coronavirus. She was surprised that all it took to go virtual was a low-cost subscription to Zoom and a tweak to her website to let people pay for online video sessions.
But she’s also feeling even more besieged now by various digital services and their never-ending fees. Credit card companies and online payment providers nibble away chunks of each sale. She has a custom-made website, but many other fitness studios fork over monthly fees for software like Mindbody that let people book classes online.
Serradilla said she’s feeding technology providers at every turn — from fees for digital cash registers to a $1.50 monthly Mastercard association fee.
“It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but you just start to look at how expensive it starts to be in little dribs and drabs,” Serradilla said.
Running a small business was never easy, and Serradilla got in touch recently to recommend we look at the emerging burdens that technology brings for businesses like hers. I took her up on the suggestion.
Serradilla was most irked about ClassPass, a membership program for which people pay to drop in on fitness classes of all sorts. This is exactly the kind of fraught relationship with online middlemen that I wrote about earlier this week.
A ClassPass spokesperson said the company helps businesses fill unsold class spots.
Serradilla — and she is far from alone on this — said that it’s more complicated. For an in-person class, ClassPass would typically pay her $12 to perhaps $20 while a regular Pilates client might pay $30. She’s glad when ClassPass fills empty spots, but it’s not easy to control the number of slots going to ClassPass members.
She acknowledges that ClassPass might be more useful for other gyms that rely less on regular clients than she does.
Serradilla, who worked in the tech industry for years, knows there’s no turning back on our increasingly online personal and commercial activity. The existential question for her and other businesses is whether the technology they rely on is helping or hurting them. And the answer is both.
Advertisers ‘boycott’ Facebook to demand change
I’ve been watching the growing Facebook “boycott” by advertisers with an eyebrow raised in doubt.
Companies including Verizon, Patagonia, Unilever and others have said they would (temporarily) stop paying for messages on Facebook and Facebook-owned Instagram to force the company to do more about dangerous or hateful content that flourishes there.
A boycott is an easy way to score points against a company that is not popular right now. Those advertisers will be back spending on Facebook, most likely.
But a similar experience several years ago with YouTube showed that pressure from the companies that pay internet giants’ bills can force meaningful change.
In 2017, news organizations started writing regularly about violent, racist and creepy YouTube videos running with automatically generated advertisements from some of the world’s biggest companies. Stung by their unwitting support of harmful videos, companies including Procter & Gamble and AT&T vowed to stop buying YouTube ads.
And Google, which owns YouTube, responded. The company developed technology to automatically identify offensive videos and block advertising on them. Google hired more people to weed out videos that broke its rules. It turned off ads entirely for smaller video makers to reduce financial motivations to post outrageous things.
Frequently Asked Questions and Advice
Updated June 24, 2020
What’s the best material for a mask?
Scientists around the country have tried to identify everyday materials that do a good job of filtering microscopic particles. In recent tests, HEPA furnace filters scored high, as did vacuum cleaner bags, fabric similar to flannel pajamas and those of 600-count pillowcases. Other materials tested included layered coffee filters and scarves and bandannas. These scored lower, but still captured a small percentage of particles.
Is it harder to exercise while wearing a mask?
A commentary published this month on the website of the British Journal of Sports Medicine points out that covering your face during exercise “comes with issues of potential breathing restriction and discomfort” and requires “balancing benefits versus possible adverse events.” Masks do alter exercise, says Cedric X. Bryant, the president and chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise, a nonprofit organization that funds exercise research and certifies fitness professionals. “In my personal experience,” he says, “heart rates are higher at the same relative intensity when you wear a mask.” Some people also could experience lightheadedness during familiar workouts while masked, says Len Kravitz, a professor of exercise science at the University of New Mexico.
I’ve heard about a treatment called dexamethasone. Does it work?
The steroid, dexamethasone, is the first treatment shown to reduce mortality in severely ill patients, according to scientists in Britain. The drug appears to reduce inflammation caused by the immune system, protecting the tissues. In the study, dexamethasone reduced deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third, and deaths of patients on oxygen by one-fifth.
What is pandemic paid leave?
The coronavirus emergency relief package gives many American workers paid leave if they need to take time off because of the virus. It gives qualified workers two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus. It is the first time the United States has had widespread federally mandated paid leave, and includes people who don’t typically get such benefits, like part-time and gig economy workers. But the measure excludes at least half of private-sector workers, including those at the country’s largest employers, and gives small employers significant leeway to deny leave.
Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?
So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.
What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?
Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.
How does blood type influence coronavirus?
A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.
How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?
The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.
What are the symptoms of coronavirus?
Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.
How can I protect myself while flying?
If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)
What should I do if I feel sick?
If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.
The changes didn’t wipe YouTube free of conspiracies and dangerous ideas. But the high profile revolt from some advertisers pushed protection measures that made YouTube a little less horrible for all of us.
I would bet Facebook will be forced to change, too, although it doesn’t sound that way at the moment. In an email to advertisers cited by The Wall Street Journal, a Facebook executive said the company wouldn’t make policy changes because of financial pressure. “We set our policies based on principles rather than business interests,” she wrote.
This is your reminder that advertisements generate 98 percent of Facebook’s yearly sales. Companies definitely do make policy changes because of revenue pressure. YouTube proved it.
Before we go …
Not just careless but “predatory”: Kara Swisher, a contributing Opinion writer for The New York Times, said the investing app Robinhood must build in more guardrails to protect inexperienced people from making disastrous mistakes. Recently, a young man took his own life after he appeared to believe he lost hundreds of thousands of dollars from complex financial transactions in the app.
We need a little stupid fun: Jingles about cheese. Pitches for a “clever pointing device called a mouse.” Captain Kirk describing the “wonder computer of the 1980s.” Vintage TV commercials spliced and compiled into YouTube videos “present an anachronistic vision of what the ideal world looked like at a specific moment in time,” Eve Peyser writes for The Times.
Climate change is fixed, everyone! I wrote yesterday that Amazon’s projects to tackle climate change might be a way to avoid looking at how the company has changed our shopping behavior in an environmentally destructive way. May I present: a new sports stadium in Seattle will be called “Climate Pledge Arena” — named after Amazon’s blueprint to reduce its carbon emissions. Job done.
Hugs to this
I’m so sorry, but this TikTok video extolling an Excel spreadsheet function is exactly my jam. (Warning: The lyrics include some words that aren’t safe for kids’ ears.)