Grocery stores around the world are in a race to bring food shopping into the digital era — the Food Marketing Institute predicts that 70 percent of US consumers will be getting at least some of their groceries online within the next four years. As Corey Mintz writes for The Walrus, what is less clear is what ripple effects this will have on “our daily lives, our communities, our health, and our workforces.” 

My local grocer, Potsothy “Pots” Sallapa, upon hearing of my engagement, insisted that we hold the wedding in his shop. My fiancée thought it sounded crazy at first—I remember her saying something about not wanting our photos to feature a stack of ­cereal boxes. But the store was a cozy place and near the apartment we shared at the time, and she agreed to at least give it a look with fresh eyes. As we toured the high-ceilinged, wood-beamed store, among Saturday-morning crowds stocking up on grapes and granola, I could see on her face that this wasn’t just a place people went to acquire toilet paper: it was a community hub. A few months later, we walked down the store’s central aisle and got married between the cash register, the root-vegetable table, a group of our friends and family, and a display of maple syrup.

There is something fundamentally important about analog shopping — getting out of the house, choosing what you want to purchase, finding new things to buy and “even the game of choosing the right checkout aisle, the one with the fastest cashier.”

One problem with all this progress is that, while other human beings can be annoying—clipping our nails on the subway, calling instead of texting, disrespecting the unwritten rule that the middle seat on a plane gets armrest preference—we need one another. Research suggests that even low-level social interactions—the kinds we have with our neighbours and mail carriers and local storeowners—form bonds known as “weak ties.” These connections have been shown to improve physical and mental health and to help reduce loneliness. “Even social interactions with the more peripheral members of our social networks contribute to our well-being,” concludes one 2014 study of weak ties—an important finding as rates of self-reported loneliness grow. More than a third of Americans over forty-five feel lonely, a 2018 study found. While some of this has been attributed to changing family dynamics (we get married later and less often than we used to, and we have fewer children), casual opportunities for social interaction, like those found when buying food, are a part of preventing isolation as well.