Brave New World
The Technology Industry, Innovation, and the Sharing Economy’s true face.
Ah the future, isn’t it grand? I know I have the propensity to rattle on about this, but what can I say, I find it interesting as hell. We’re a generation that gets to see the impact of technology from conception to implementation, and even to supersession. This whole lifespan of an idea: concept to creation, deployment to death. Short bursts of brilliance that accelerate us toward the horizon. We’re a generation that gets to change the world and see those changes as we go.
The stuff we may have thought initially as arbitrary, like a neat little search engine in the 90s called Google, has an ability to grow and morph and turn into the $66 billion, yes, billion-dollar-a-year behemoth used by almost all of Earth on a day to day basis within a decade or two. The tech bubble in the early 2000s left a lasting impression on everyone: What is going to be the next big thing in tech, and what the does it take to be a part of it?
There is a total romanticism in pop culture surrounding the tech industry as we head deeper into the meat of the 21st century. Series like USA Network’s Mr Robot and HBO’s Silicon Valley have played on stereotypes to cash in on the hacker and tech culture. We’re all interested. This tech stuff runs more and more of our lives, and a ton of us have no idea about the basics of how it all works. We want to know. This lack of basic understanding has made misinformation of the hacker stereotype such an easy sell from Hollywood in the past, but now we’re seeing an added realism, like in Mr Robot, to something that for years and years has been laughable to the initiated. It’s kind of refreshing. What once was presented to us as a graphic of a rotating cube on a screen coupled with furious mechanical keyboard noise produced by some red haired, thick studded bracelet-wearing nerd has finally turned into just some nobody staring at a few open terminal shells, the long boring wait for a brute force attack to get some results, coupled with a renewed appreciation for ‘social engineering’, the oldest, arguably most useful hack. Yes, we’ve walked a long path to get to this point.
The technology world is leading the way it seems. Innovation is the core and foundation of their business model. This is a very important distinction from almost all other industries, which of course have their elements of innovation, but innovation itself may not be a necessary requisite to their survival. Think of banks, hotels, pay TV companies, and the taxi industry; they’ve all just been able to go at their own pace in their own field. Improving where they need to, plodding along when it all works at their pace. Just want the sports package on a pay TV service and it’s the year 1995? Oh, bummer. That package only comes in their premium 746 channel super pack for just $149 a month. Damn, what a shame. Oh well, just let them know if you want it or not…
Innovation is never a top priority of a comfortable industry. Or a profitable industry. Or, perhaps most importantly, a protected industry. One without too many external market pressures. A few key players, almost cartel like in their behaviour, a set way to enter their race, and a rigged game in the runners favour.
Boy have things started to change, because the technology industry has started to bleed into every other industry, and when innovation is the reason a technology company exists in the first place you can bet your ass they know how to innovate. And when an existing industry has been comfortable, stagnate and profitable for decades you can bet any asses of the white male board members they have forgotten how to innovate and change fast to adapt.
This is the exact scenario we are seeing unfold in front of our eyes between the bloated, unaccountable Taxi industry, and the tech giant Uber that is blowing them out of the water at a consumer level with their innovative peer reviewed application.
Uber has its issues - it isn’t all smiles: something will need to be done about the seemingly disproportionate risk drivers have to bear in order to drive while Uber rakes in the profits, and the ‘Sharing Economy’ has some pretty not-so-subtle issues. But am I a fan of Uber? Hell yes I am. Customers finally have some transparency in cab costs, bad drivers finally are held accountable for being assholes, and a proper use of the technology that already exists - GPS and smartphones - revolutionises the shitty system of cab drivers' cherry picking lonely pretty girls they might decide to murder on their way home.
Remember the days where some prick with his doors locked would ask you where you wished to go, and if the destination you gave him displeased his holiness he would drive off leaving you stranded at 4am, left to call dispatch again where some other sad sack of shit advises you that a car is on its way? Fuck those days! That purgatory cold light of morning shit will make anyone consider religion just to hedge your bets in case limbo is even a remote possibility after death.
Screw an industry unwilling to adapt to the market, chucking a hissy fit through employee protests because they have to compete like the rest of the private sector. Little word of advice Unions: maybe holding a strike in a major city, leaving people unable to use your Taxi service, having your customers DRIVEN to use the competition in Uber is a dumb idea.
Yes, the tech world has pushed us to new great heights. Seemingly to our benefit. The disruption of the ‘set in stone’ industries seems like a pretty great thing for consumers, with proper tangible benefits we can all enjoy today. But I get the feeling we’re all so attracted to the romanticised tech culture we fail to see the bigger picture of what this all really is: the Sharing Economy is an idea sold to us from tech companies to mask the real state of affairs: a Desperate Economy of people forced to rent out their homes (AirBnb), their cars (Uber), their food (insert soon to be recognisable start-up here), and whatever other commodity you can offer your fellow citizens just to make ends meet in a world where the middle class is hobbling into the future like a sick dog on the streets of Indonesia.
See this is the real problem: does anybody actually want some random person in their apartment for the weekend? Perhaps it’s that the housing prices in Sydney are so high that in order to keep making payments you need that extra boost in income. Want to drive some drunk middle aged folk home in your own near new car on a Saturday night, risking the interior from a bout of “motion” sickness? You have to pay that car off and your day job just isn’t cutting it. Where is our choice?
We’re sold the idea that it’s a great way to boost income, take control of our working lives and finances, earn for ourselves. Work for ourselves! But when a 20% cut for every single transaction goes to an entity that isn’t physically in the picture it seems to me more like a prostitution ring on a global scale. AirBnb is a homeowner’s pimp. There to take a cut, but they sure as hell won’t open their assets to be fucked. Uber is a driver’s daddy, there to set up the deal with hands off the wheel. And if shit goes wrong they’ll be there to throw so much money at the problem from all the deals that went right that this little problem goes away faster than the minute it takes to watch AirBnb’s ridiculously ambiguous and meaningless television advertisements. Can’t figure out what they are selling from the ad? Don’t worry. It’s not you. It’s because they are selling the idea that it’s completely normal to have to rent out your home, something the middle class has never had to do to make ends meet.
The tech industry has moved and permeated and spilt over to now be innovating and revolutionising other industries. These new companies are slick. They are glossed up. And they know how to sell because they’ve gotten big enough to hire the same mother fuckers that used to sell us the old stagnate shitty business model the previous generation of corporation was using. We’ve replaced Abbott for Turnbull; dumb, bad and unconcealed for smart, bad and like trying to nail fucking jelly on a wall.
Good luck citizens, and welcome to the brave new world where technology and marketing has put a band-aid that you’ve paid for over the massive wound that is bleeding out the middle class.