[P2P-F] Fwd: The Uber Problem, Anne-Marie Slaughter's book
michel at p2pfoundation.net
Tue Oct 20 17:19:58 CEST 2015
---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: <douglas at rushkoff.com>
Date: Tue, Oct 20, 2015 at 7:41 PM
Subject: The Uber Problem, Anne-Marie Slaughter's book
To: rushkoff at simplelists.com
I've responded to two brilliant women's pieces this week.
Susan Crawford wrote about Uber on Medium - calling attention to the way it
promotes certain private agendas but represses other more civic ones. After
reading Tim O'Reilly's defense of Uber's impact, I thought I should explain
how Uber's problems really result from what the company is "optimizing" for.
Then, I happened to begin reading Anne-Marie Slaughter's new book
"Unfinished Business" on men, women, careerism, and family - and it struck
me both personally and as a real-world case study on the themes of Present
So both of my responses are below.
I really am hoping to write you a couple of times a week. There's a whole
lot going on right now in the world and the media that deserves explanation
and analysis; I just have to get myself into a new weekly rhythm between
writing, speaking, teaching, and parenting. Still, like the title of my
piece on Slaughter's book, there's something to be said for accepting that
"You Can't Have it All."
I'll in Chicago later this week keynoting the Vision Critical conference.
Looks like a good gathering on big data, but - with a ticket price of a few
hundred bucks - more for people with expense accounts than regular folks.
I'm speaking at a free conference on Platform Cooperatives at the New
School in NYC on November 13-14, closing out the event with a speech and
discussion with one of my favorite humans ever, Astra Taylor.
My problem with Uber all along has been that it’s optimized for a really
specific utility, but at the expense of others. It’s a bit like online
universities, which offer courses isolated from the fabric of education or
a learning community. That’s the nature of any digital business: you get
what you program for, but lose everything else — and sometimes it doesn’t
Remember what Clearchannel did to the FM dial? They bought it all up, and
replaced local stations and deep music knowledge with long-distance,
computer-generated play lists. It was all excused as free market
capitalism; thanks to VC they had more money, so they were entitled to
purchase the landscape. Eventually, the non-local Clearchannel FM stations
proved they weren’t profitable enough to sustain the company’s valuation,
so Clearchannel began selling them. But the institutional knowledge enjoyed
by those original FM stations was gone.
Uber may be of great utility in the limited frame of providing low-cost
rides for people with iPhones. But it does not serve any of the other
functions that a local taxi service does. Meanwhile, its programmed not
just to provide rides, but to take out competition. It is a platform
monopoly in the making. This is because it cannot support it’s
multi-billion-dollar valuation by being a ride broker.
Uber needs to create a platform monopoly so that it can leverage into other
verticals, from logistics to self-driving cars. If anything, Uber’s drivers
are the R&D for Uber’s driverless future. They are spending their labor and
capital investments (cars) on their own future unemployment. And even that
would be okay, if they were shareholders in Uber capable of participating
in those future profits — but it’s not a worker-owned cooperative at all.
As every economist since Adam Smith and before has known, the factors of
production are land, labor, and capital — and sometimes entrepreneurial
effort. But the current digital economy rewards only capital, and acts as
if acknowledging the contributions of land and labor were a communist,
The people providing the labor and the communities providing the territory
for Uber’s operations deserve an equal say in the way the company works,
and revenues the company earns.
You Can't Have it All
(CNN)Technology has always been about choice: Fire allowed us to choose to
live in colder climates. Electric lighting offered us the choice to read at
night. Drugs give us the freedom to choose stressful, self-destructive
And digital technology gives us the ability to do more than one thing at
the same time -- or at least it feels that way.
In Anne-Marie Slaughter's provocatively commonsensical new book,
"Unfinished Business: Women, Men, Work, Family," she's not concerned with
the digital at all, but the problem she's pointing to is a form of its
multitasking ethos writ large: the way women and men, but women in
particular, must prioritize (that is, juggle) career and family.
In stark opposition to the can-do feminism embraced by some of today's
C-suite female superstars, Slaughter makes the simple but undeniably
realistic case for lowering our expectations. The idea of parents perfectly
balancing family duties so they can prioritize their careers equally just
doesn't work in practice, says Slaughter. "The problem is that
'fifty-fifty' is just too pat. Life rarely works out that way. And it's
much harder to be honest about what it really takes."
As a result, we must abandon the notion that anyone -- man or woman -- can
fully dedicate themselves to both family and career at the same time. "We
often cannot control the fate of our career and family; insisting that we
can obscures the deeper structures and forces that shape our lives and
deflects attention from the larger changes that must be made."
Sadly, perhaps, one parent will end up doing more parenting and miss out on
career opportunities, while the other will miss out on some family joys,
but end up higher on the corporate ladder. This is more the problem of
competitive corporate culture than it is the failure of individuals to find
balance or to work hard enough.
But our technologies, and the culture they spawn, would beg to differ. They
want us to believe we can do it all. Facebook executive Sheryl Sandburg
became something of a pop business hero for advocating that women "lean in"
and do whatever it takes to strive for leadership roles in the workplace --
even if it means hiring people to nanny, tutor, and coach one's kids.
Outsource, borrow, push, and strive. It's a pedal-to-the-metal approach to
life and work that really only makes sense if you're thinking of your
family like a startup you can "flip" once you've finished building it by
any means necessary.
The inclination for multitasking engendered by our digital platforms and
their advocates has created the false impression that we can actually do
everything we want, all at once. We think we can answer email as well while
driving a car as we can at our desks, send sensible tweets while watching a
concert, or do homework well while conversing on Snapchat.
Yet every study so far has shown us to be less effective when attempting to
multitask. Even when our subjective impression is of having accomplished
more in less time, in reality we get less done, we do it with less accuracy
and depth, and we remember less about it later. Doing more at once robs all
our activities of the attention they deserve -- and the experience we
Slaughter daringly suggests we stop compensating for the unreasonable and
dehumanizing demands of corporate culture by running our home lives as if
they were the offshore manufacturing arms of a conglomerate. And that we
stop blaming ourselves for not being able to measure up to these false
As she says: "When law firms and corporations hemorrhage talented women who
reject lockstep career paths and question promotion systems that elevate
quantity of hours worked over the quality of the work itself, the problem
is not with the women."
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