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Gin and Tacos: Problem Solving Skills

PROBLEM SOLVING SKILLS

Reading Ed’s rant about Uber (UberX more aligns with what he’s discussing, as well as Lyft) and AirBnB, I can’t help but think that there are two sides to the coin, as one-sided as this article is. There is something to be said about allowing utilization of an otherwise squandered resource (a car that isn’t used more than half the time, a guest room), but Ed has a very serious point…the reason things like Lyft and AirBnB became popular was not because of the sudden demand to sleep in someone’s guest room, but rather the more serious need to squeeze more money out of your possessions, because you can’t work enough to get by.

And there’s the other issue…Lyft and AirBnB encourage higher utilization of otherwise squandered resources…when are we as a nation going to pull our heads out of our collective asses and buy fewer cars (because among the urban many don’t need them) and smaller houses (because who really needs a fucking guest room anyway)? It isn’t a good thing that median pay has barely kept up with inflation…but it’s an even worse thing that our consumption has outpaced it. And in the end, these internet services are way less economically efficient than spending money on only the house/car you actually need.

I will agree on Ed’s assessment of the Wired article, though. Once again Silicon Valley has descended into self-congratulatory masturbation over what is little more than enabling people to squeeze precious currency out of consumption culture bullshit they can’t afford. Just because it does serve an economic purpose doesn’t mean any of these people should harbor illusions that they’re making the economy better for anyone other than the already moneyed (and I say this as someone who is ostensibly one of them).

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2 thoughts on “Gin and Tacos: Problem Solving Skills

  1. I kind of disagree with this article. He asks, somewhat rhetorically, “Does anyone really want … to drive some trust fund asshole to the airport on Saturday after a 45 hour week?” But yes, I do. For one thing, I find giving strangers a ride an interesting way to meet new people. Even if I don’t get to know any of them, for someone who enjoys people-watching, it’s a better version of that. Plus it is fulfilling. It is a way I can help people out in a situation where I’ve wanted someone to help me out before. I appreciate the convenience of owning a car. I don’t need it that much day-to-day since I commute without it, but I find it I need it often enough to definitely be worth having. But as a whole, I would like to see the urban population stop filling the streets with more cars than we need. So if I can help some other people not own cars by sharing mine sometimes, it seems like a good trade-off.

    However, despite that I do like some of the ideas behind the “sharing economy”, I recognize that most people are not like me and we don’t live in the utopia that those ideals present. I know that most Uber drivers are probably just folks who need the supplemental income because we’ve made it too hard to make ends meet. But even if you forget about the so-called sharing aspect of such services, I still see value in what these services have done. I do think they democratize access to these professions. Maybe these are folks that would have wanted to drive a cab whether Uber existed or not, but couldn’t get in to it. I’m not sure whether this is a plus economically, since these services make their money by getting people to do these jobs for cheaper than would have been tolerated by full-time cabbies, and taking their work. However, traditional cab companies could learn something from this. I believe that the success of Uber and similar services isn’t that they make it cheaper or let anyone drive or sell you on this fiction of sharing. It’s all about user convenience. If I could summon a cab with an app on my phone, see their ETA, get an up-front estimate of the ride cost, and know for sure that I could pay automatically using saved credit card details, then I’d be happy to take a real taxi instead of an Uber. It’s the 21st century and UX matters.

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  2. I find that the reason Ed’s assessment of these services resonates has much more to do with the timing of it all than the services itself. It’s a great time to capitalize off of people’s lack of money, and that’s the crux of his rant moreso than the value of the services itself…especially considering that the Wired article he cited was so tonedeaf about the real economics of these businesses.

    My personal opinion is that it’s all very Marxist (in a good way). What more is Lyft than giving a car owner the means to turn his purchase into working capital with a return? Like Marx, I’d also note we still have someone in the middle “exploting the means of production”, but as you noted it’s a definite improvement over (for the sake of this example) cab companies.

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