Uber’s Fifteen Minutes are just about up
I think the much ballyhooed Uber is about twelve and a half minutes into its fifteen minutes of fame. I wouldn’t quite say it is heading toward the shipwreck of Pets.com or even MySpace. I think the better analogy is Craiglist.
Didn’t your mother tell you not to take candy from strangers? Well, what about getting in the car with strange men? No?
That was okay so long as the internet promised they were safe. I mean 4.5 stars are good enough for Netflix. Why shouldn’t I hop in the car with this person? I mean, what could happen.
For starters, since the price of Uber rides is shrouded in secrecy and subject to nebulous multipliers, you could get bilked. I spoke to a Raleigh woman who was Ubered on Halloween. She was charged $180 for a 25 minute ride and subsequently promised a $53 refund, only for it to be changed to a credit that must be spent with Uber.
And while that hardly sounds more predatory than the average-humongous-evil-capitalist corporation, BP and Chevron laugh at the thought that those mere price changes are nefarious business practices, Uber has other blemishes, not the least of which are it’s CEO cavalier attacks on critical journalists and media members.
In an interesting piece in GQ, Mickey Rapkin argues that the interest in Uber is built around the voyeuristic element. I would agree. It offers all of us a chance to be cab drivers and/or hop in strangers cars. People dig it. Read Rapkin’s piece, he loved surfing through other people’s lives.
But just like there was eventually a Craiglist killer and Craigslist Adult Services had to be removed because too many people were exploiting it for pimping and child trafficking, Uber is rife with vulnerabilities. Rapkin describes picking up a high school age kid to transfer her from one divorced parents’ house to another. This isn’t a kid flying solo on airplane in federally regulated and supervised buildings, machines, and air space the entire time. This is some kid hopping in a stranger’s car based on internet ratings. I mean a dedicated serial killer or child trafficking ring could hardly game those, right??
The irony is that I want to like and support things like hitchhiking. I want to live where strangers are presumed safe. Mahalo. Shalom. Assalaam alaykum. I want sticking your thumb out to mean a connection with humanity, a collective application of the Golden Rule.
Of course, this is not the transaction of the capitalist paradigm. Where is the exchange of goods or at least money? How can we just do something without attaching a value?
Sadly in this diseased society, hitchhiking is verboten. It is considered laughable and frightfully dangerous. Uber hasn’t changed societal trajectory, it has tapped into a need. It has shown that the cab business was woefully behind the technological curve. It has demonstrably proved that many Americans want a way to get there other than their own car.* Uber is part of the DIY movement and the microbusiness trend.
No doubt, Uber is a forerunner. But it says here, they won’t be around for the finish line. There is a reason the government regulates cab drivers. There is a reason limo companies screen their drivers. Uber lives in a gray area (if not a gray market) between those two.