I’ve been doing some taxi journeys this week, and thought it was about time I tried Uber for myself. Got me thinking about what systems like Uber mean for the experience of those using them, which our macro level discussion ignored.
Last night at rush hour I got a traditional cab. I gave them 30 minutes notice, and it still turned up 25 minutes late. The driver was a very nice woman, according to her the only women amongst 300 drivers at that firm. She’s on the same kind of self-employed model that Uber drivers are, though obviously the details are slightly different. I asked her whether she’d ever considered Uber, and she said she wouldn’t because the dispatcher sends her many of their “better” jobs, presumably because she’s seen as a good ambassador for the business. She’s wary of picking up random people, particularly from pubs. The role of the dispatcher gives her more faith that she’ll be safe. I’d never considered it before, but the dispatcher is making an assessment of your accent and location and allocating you to a particular driver according to the assumptions they attach to that. This driver had more faith in the dispatcher’s assessment than in a rating system. This isn’t an argument for or against Uber, I just found it interesting how the mechanics worked differently.
The Uber I got this morning at rush hour took 3 minutes from ordering it. App was as seamless as I was led to expect. The cab driver didn’t attempt to start any conversation. I initiated conversation and did a mini interview of him about Uber. He was very positive on the whole, though complained about the app growing all the time so that he had to delete everything else of his phone, and the remoteness of Uber themselves. The thing which stood out to me was the rating aspect. I hadn’t realised quite how contemporary ep1 of the new Black Mirror is. The technological mediation of a face to face interaction is really rather sinister to me. For many, me included,taxis are one of few places we have a window to interact with those outside our bubble. We’ve all had racist cabbies before, but I’d prefer that exchange to a cabbie that’s too scared to speak for fear of lowering their rating in some way. It becomes another job in which the content of interaction becomes subservient to external monitoring, the app inserting itself in the accountability relationship between driver and customer. Ironically in this additional emotional labour Uber’s “self-employed” model renders the driver far more subservient to their “partner”/employer than a traditional taxi driver.
I don’t have any particular axe to grind with these observations, felt they were of the kind that were missing from our previous exchange.