Uber and the New Control Economy

Uber is an amazing and revolutionary business in many ways. One of the most fascinating things about this new transportation sensation is the way that it’s both reacting to and shaping our culture at the same time.

The symbiotic relationship between Uber and culture is evidenced in the word itself. Uber has entered the collective lexicon as both a noun and a verb as quickly as Google when you consider that the company was founded in 2009 and Google in 1998. It’s commonplace nowadays to say: “I Ubered there,” to explain how you got somewhere.

The biggest cultural wave that Uber is both feeding, but more importantly, feeding off of, is a growing desire by consumers to control the ways they consume goods and services: streaming and on-demand television, DVR, Netflix, iTunes, social media, internet dating, online journalism, hell the whole internet (remember when a store had to be “open” for you to go shopping?). The list goes on and on. Increasingly, consumers are getting used to the idea that they can control the supply and delivery of the things they consume.

The movie business is a prime example. In 2014, moviegoing hit a two-decade low despite a strengthening economy and uptick in almost all other discretionary spending. People are finding the idea of showing up to a theatre at a specific day and time to watch a film far less appealing than the idea of controlling when and how they see it.

Any business that inverts the supply and delivery mechanism in this way contributes to a growing control economy where power and wealth is shifting to organizations that allow their consumers maximum control over their purchases.

Hailing a taxi cab is a situation where you have some control, but at the end of the day, if no taxis drive by you, you won’t be able to get one. The rating systems, payment methods, ubiquity of the app and the selection of service all add to the total control consumers have over their Uber experience.

Oscar Wilde once said, “Life imitates art more than art imitates life.” I think the opposite is true of Uber in that it’s doing a perfect imitation of our lives as consumers where we demand what we want when we want it, and more often that not — we get it.

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