I RECENTLY TOOK my first Uber ride.
I know, I know, this is an embarassing admission. But there it is, and here is why I mention it at all.
I am fascinated by the Uber experience and the statement the phenomenon makes, not just about our culture, but about connectivity.
IT WAS OUR FIRST NIGHT in San Diego and we had just made dinner reservations. The weather was awful (yes, we brought rain to Southern California), so even though the restaurant was not more than a mile away, walking was out. That's when my daughter suggested we consider Uber. We had a rental car, so it took a little convincing to decide to leave it parked in front of the house and to summon "a local" to drive us up the hill to Bull & Grain. But that's just what we did.
The car arrived in mere moments, and the three of us climbed in. Eliza quickly struck up the conversation that was repeated with every subsequent Uber driver: How long have you been driving? What made you decide to do it? How do you like the work? I was fascinated by each and every one of these exchanges. They were personal (albeit short) commentaries about life and its twists and turns: It was the first night with Uber for one admittedly anxious woman, a school teacher with young children at home. Another was a longtime driver who happened to be a jazz musician with great artist recommendations (Anita O'Day) and a strong suggestion we rearrange our intenerary to include a visit to Cabrillo (we did) and the museums at Balboa Park (we didn't but wish we had).
UBER IS HOT, there's no doubt about that, with some experts putting the private company's value in the $60 billion range. (Billion.) While this evaluation is a rather hotly debated topic, there's no denying "mobile moment" appeal on which the concept is based. Hailing a ride requires the push of a button. Cars are (generally) close by. Fares are established up front, and because the bill is paid automatically and electronically, no cash changes hands. That means there's no worry over being ripped off by a circuitous route driver, and there's no fretting over a tip. (I can't overly state the value of this part of the model.)
And there is the fact your driver is not a distant, impersonal professional but a "regular" person who has a particular set of circumstances that brings him/her to Uber driving in the first place. The whole experience feels more pedestrian, somehow, like these people are your neighbors--human beings with complicated lives and jobs and families, challenges and charms, flaws, dreams and failures. You might be strangers in a car, but there is also between you a sweet window for connection, somehow, a quiet understanding you are just people going about life and doing it the best you can.
THIS CONNECTIVITY is a very real part of Uber's appeal, that's what I think, and it's the point I want to make. It's an acknowledgement, however understated, that we are all in this together, that whether you're the one giving the lift or the one paying the fare, both sides of the Uber equation are actually doing something good, something that helps a brother out.
It's a pretty compelling business benefit, I have to say, even if it's a quiet one.