The new buzz phrase is “sharing economy” which is as devoid of meaning and value as the people who like to use it. The vapid hipsters love prattling on about Uber and how it is “disruptive” as if that’s always a good thing. Earthquakes are disruptive. The Black Plague was disruptive. Like everything else today, Uber is about signaling. You’re a beautiful person if you think Uber is the best. You’re a loser if you think it sounds like a handful of sharpies convincing hipsters to be gypsy cab drivers at below market rates.
That’s the thing about the “sharing economy.” It is not new. Ross Perot got rich doing much the same thing in the 70s and 80’s. In the old days, computers were expensive. Companies would sell their idle time to guys like Perot who would find customers in need or processing power, but lacking the money to buy their own mainframe. It was the technological equivalent of the oxpecker bird and rhino. The bird picks ticks and parasites from the hide of the rhino and functions as a warning system. The rhino can live without the bird, but lives better with him.
And when computers became commodity items well, Perot Systems is now owned by Dell, which has come a long way from the parts-assembly operation Michael Dell ran out of his UT Austin dorm room.
So this is where things are:
Back then, the companies renting the time had an expensive asset they want to maximize. The renter was looking for a lower cost alternative to the million dollar mainframe. Cabs are cheap. No one gets rich driving a cab. How desperate do you have to be to be an Uber driver? How hard up are you if you want to take a ride from some hard up weirdo you met on-line?
Forty years ago a symbiotic relationship between mainframe users was a temporary solution to bridge the gap between the now and better future. Uber represents a desperate attempt to squeeze the remaining juice from the lemon of the modern economy. It is the equivalent of a widow taking in laundry and boarders in order to pay rent. It’s not something signaling a better future. It is a desperate attempt to delay the inevitable decline.
It doesn’t help that technology scourge Al Franken is now pressing Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick over alleged user-privacy violations.
(Disclosure: My son has occasionally driven for Uber. He is not, I assure you, a hard-up weirdo.)