Last month I got into a Lyft and immediately regretted it. My driver had given me a friendly hello and then immediately kept talking. I was tired and had been fantasizing the entire shuttle ride home of just putting my new noise-cancelling headphones on and listening to something mindless ..something that I could whole-heartedly agree with but that also made me feel better about myself and required zero firing of the synaptic nerves in my brain: either the soothing sounds of an NPR broadcaster passive aggressively complaining about Trump for 20 minutes OR the same 2012 Flo Rida song on repeat for 20 minutes. Instead this guy was just yammering away about how some passenger had once been rude to him. I was giving him the kind of empathetic coos that I usually save for research participants who complain that running ads online costs money. At some point he started asking me why this particularly rude passenger had left a rating saying that he was a Mongolian. I became somewhat intrigued. I asked if he was Mongolian. He wasn’t. He then told me that some drunk passenger had given him 4 stars for being Mongolian and that those 4 stars had lowered his perfect 5-star rating enough that he was now having a hard time getting rides.
We continued talking and I realized that this had happened recently, and that he wasn’t complaining merely to ruin the day of an innocent redhead who just wanted her daily dose of Trump hate, but that he was genuinely upset about this event and deeply worried that his score would be permanently harmed. As we drove down Market it slowly washed over me that I was communicating with a man who was concerned that he wouldn’t be able to provide for his family because some drunk probably white, probably finance bro who probably lives in the Marina doesn’t understand that Mongolians REALLY HAVEN’T DONE MUCH SINCE GENGHIS KAHN. I was getting more and more heated on his behalf.
Me: “You need to contact the Lyft people and tell them that someone left a dumb bigoted review and that it shouldn’t count against you!”
Him: “I’ve tried, I’ve tried. They won’t do do anything. All the reviews count.”
I actually already knew this. Last year, before I got my current job, I was working at Stanford as a research assistant making a couple hundred bucks a week. I desperately needed to earn extra money in my off-hours and saw that I had two options: stripping or driving for Lyft. I chose Lyft because I hate doing ab exercises and the San Francisco market for stripping services from women whose bodies have been called “tall white sticks” has really taken a hit with all this “feminism.” As I learned, driving for Lyft is hard because 1) humans refuse to follow the most basic of instructions and 2) humans generally treat other humans they’re paying $2/hour to wait on them HORRIBLY.
When we pulled up to our destination I asked to see the review. Marina Bro wasn’t calling my driver a Mongolian; Marina Bro was calling the conversation he had with my driver “a monologue.” See picture below.
From Marina Bro’s perspective he was in the right to give his driver 4 stars for being too friendly. But little did he know that by giving his driver 4 stars he would actually be causing someone to lose sleep. From Lyft’s perspective this is just one rating in a never-ending tidal wave of ratings …but to this guy it’s a rating of how good he is at his job — and he takes his job seriously.
As the people making the choices to include star rating systems and the like, Silicon Valley is making choices about what their users will stay awake at night worrying about. Should we worry about the fact that most of these shot-callers have never worked as a Lyft driver (or whatever the equivalent is). In my USC, MIT, Stanford, Berkeley social bubble, I’ve found that I can count on one hand the friends who had high school OR college jobs. When I tell people that 3 months before I started at my current company I was driving for Lyft, their astonishment speaks to the two increasingly distinct spheres of San Francisco - and I’m afraid that as tech companies strive to become more diverse we’ve forgotten that social class is an important dimension of diversity.
Silicon Valley is building tools for people to do their jobs, and in some cases creating jobs, but they’re jobs that many of us have never done. We could rationally explain that as long as this guy takes more rides his rating will go right back up, but we don’t know what it is like to spend days trying to understand why someone gave you a bad rating and called you a Mongolian when you were just trying to be friendly.