Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Dictatorship of the Yuppies

I have never used Uber.

Let me put that in context. I am a white guy with decent income residing in Brooklyn, I am between the ages of 25 and 35, I have a smartphone, and I have never used nor felt the need to use Uber. I know plenty of other New Yorkers who can say the same and I live and ride the subway with even more non-members of the much talked about "sharing economy" of which Uber is so often Exhibit A.

Unlike many of these same New Yorkers, I grew up far away in the Commonwealth of Virginia, where a service like Uber would be hard pressed to even get off the ground. It's a frequent joke that the town I grew up in only exists because people on I-95 ran out of gas. Cabs are for DC and the airport, which makes them a rarity even among the upper middle class DOD employees - more often, it's taken as a given you can drive yourself or get a lift from someone. This arrangement has never been viewed by anyone as a problem and there is nothing in the transportation system to "disrupt" other than the HOV lane.

All of this leads to the conclusion that Uber - and by extension the sharing economy in general - is simply a non-issue outside a very limited, urban, and well-to-do demographic.

It just so happens that the same demographic contains the primary writers and readers of the New York Times, the Atlantic, and every other respectable publication - to say nothing of the narrowly focused tech publications.

So a narrowly urban yuppie service like Uber ends up getting a much larger share of reporting and commentary than, say, the toxic water of Flint Michigan. Despite reports for more than a year, it's only been in the last few weeks that anyone remembered Flint even existed. And then they looked at the hashtag and asked "Is Michael Moore making another movie?"

Because social media is a product of the same insular, upper middle class culture as Uber users and as such is simply not engaged with the majority experience in modern America. Instead, we get a closed system of materially secure yuppies arguing over an app-based utopia that only they will ever experience.

That's what the sharing economy and all the other "internet of things" dithering comes down to: a gated community for people residing in America's urban coastal enclaves. A community many of them don't even want, but they don't have the guts to leave.

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