Uber is what you get when you take Silicon Valley’s most toxic values, add billions of dollars in venture capital, and spice it with endless adoration from a fawning tech press. The resulting cocktail has turned as putrid as it’s been potent. And the inebriated corporate culture of Uber is acting as reckless and callous as a dangerous drunk.
I’m sure it didn’t start out this way. It never does. They were up against entrenched interests keen to keep a shoddy on-demand transportation system in place for another century. A perfectly unlikable foe begging for a D-Day Disruption. Hell, I cheered them on in this fight in the early days!
“Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster… for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you” — Friedrich Nietzsche
But it sure didn’t take long until that monster lurking within was unleashed. Before working with Trump, before this latest sexual harassment scandal, Uber’s rap sheet already included sabotaging competitors, threatening journalists, repeatedly deceiving drivers, and much more.
Yet none of it has so far really mattered much, as Uber has proven the Silicon Valley maxim that “growth solves all problems”. And grown they have! Supposedly worth some $66 billion now, they’re the #1 Unicorn in the world of tech. That’s about as good of a moral immunity policy as you can get in Silicon Valley.
There are simply too many people who have either actual money at stake, or correlated investments on the line, to expect much internal pressure from Silicon Valley for Uber to change its ways.
“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his [exit strategy] depends upon his not understanding it!” — Upton Sinclair
It’s the same dynamic that’s played out around billionaire Trump surrogate, Facebook board member, and YCombinator partner Peter Thiel. No matter how odious his statements, views, or connections, he continues to be a revered prince in the Silicon Valley royal family. There appears to be nothing Thiel could say or Uber could do that’ll cause their fall from grace.
“I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters” — Donald Trump
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that both Peter Thiel and Uber CEO Travis Kalanick have been chummy and beyond with Trump. There’s an unmistakable ideological kinship between the three. A ruthless disregard for the law and any institutions that stand between them and more billions or settled scores. A pattern of vindictive power moves against the press and others.
Again, this is straight from the Silicon Valley book of sacred beliefs: Move fast and break things. Disrupt! Whatever you need to do to keep the engine of growth firing at 110%, just do it. You can always release a contrite press release if you get caught. The memory of consumers and voters is short, so worry not.
Which is exactly the route Kalanick is choosing at the moment. First, it was withdrawing from the Trump council after the chorus of #DeleteUber got loud enough to pose a threat to that still-unrealized billion-dollar valuation. Now it’s laughably trying to distance himself from the corporate culture he embodies because former employee, Susan J. Fowler, blew the whistle on her “very, very strange year at Uber”.
There is nothing aberrational in either of those two incidents from either the Uber modus operandi or the broader Silicon Valley culture that has encouraged it. It’s completely expectable and predictable behavior. You only feign to be surprised or shocked when you seek to prevent any deeper soul searching from occurring. Because, oh the horror, it may reveal that our cherished ideals are looking a little rough after being fully realized.
So it’s time for the consumers of Uber to do what its board, venture capitalist-backers, and royal protectors never will: Impose real consequences on Uber for its appalling behavior. Because without the approval of riders, Uber is nothing. None of the billions of dollars in funding will do anything to save them, if enough people say “enough” and stop using the app.
I get that may well be a bit inconvenient at times. And alternatives like Lyft may not be squeaky clean either. But these are all excuses for people trying to avoid the bare minimum a consumer can do when faced with a company that repels it: Stop buying. It’s really that simple. You don’t have to print any signs, you don’t even have to go to a rally, just #DeleteUber, and you’ll sleep just that tiny bit better tonight.