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Uber, Lyft, and Unintended Consequences April 24, 2019

Posted by Peter Varhol in Technology and Culture.
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There is a lot going on with, well, I cannot use the term ride-sharing, because it’s not, but with changing the dynamics of personal transportation, often in unforeseen ways.

So here we go.  I grew up in rural middle America (well, not so middle, but flyover country nonetheless).  I had my driver’s license the day after my sixteenth birthday (the day after I soloed in a Piper Cherokee 140), because in blue collar America, your family had one car that your father used to go to work in the mill, and otherwise you had no way of getting around.  If you were a guy, you got a beater for a hundred bucks, and you drove yourself.  And changed the oil and rigged the rust with bondo.

(I have a related story.  I was passed down my family’s 66 Chevy BelAir, a true rusting hulk.  In fact, the frame rusted through, underneath, on the driver’s side.  I drove a bolt between the frame and the crossmember, and drove it for another couple of years.)

But it was more than that.  I learned my way around my community, and the surrounding area.  I knew every single dirt road in a 25-mile radius, and the fastest way to get from the place I was at to the place that I needed to be (including driving through fields).

Uber and Lyft say several things about the future of personal transportation.  First, you have to live somewhere they are available.  You might think that is a given proposition, but in much of America it is not.  That may drive people toward more urban areas, or it may create another digital divide across our country.

But I think most important, you are not going to be able to get from one place to another on your own.  You don’t know your locality.  Now, I recognize that there are a couple of retorts to that statement.  First, I have my GPS.  Ah, but in rural America, just how accurate is that?  Even in my current East Coast suburbia, it has significant flaws.  People won’t have a mental model of their locality.

Well, it’s not my problem, you say, it’s Uber’s!  No, it’s yours too.  I have been deposited in places that the GPS has said was correct, only to find out that it wasn’t.  What do you do then?

I am a strong believer in situational awareness.  You need to know where you are at all times, and what is around you.  If you don’t, you are subject to mostly unpleasant surprises.  Don’t at all think it’s going to turn our well if you have no clue as to where you are, and where you are going.

I wonder if we are forming a geographic cocoon, unable to navigate ourselves outside of a range of a few hundred yards (less if we don’t even walk for recreation).  More so, is it necessarily a bad thing?  I think it is.  We have people who take their mobile phones on hikes in the wilderness, expecting 9-1-1 to rescue them if they don’t get home by dinner.

I wonder what my life would be like if I couldn’t navigate on my own, based on my own experiences and travels.  It would certainly be less rich, but I also wonder if it would be more, well dangerous, in the event that I found myself having to, but ill-prepared to do so.

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