Uber and “new” technology

Recently, my wife and I visited Chicago for a long weekend trip.  I was attending a conference and she was tagging along to visit the Windy City for her first time.  My wife had made a long list of sights she planned to see and when we reviewed the list, we realized how tough it would be for her to make it work.  Her options seemed limited. She could save money by using public transportation to travel around the city but would sacrifice time traveling from location to location.  Another option included using taxis to travel more directly from place to place.  With the high cost of cab fare, however, she sacrificed spending a lot of money just in transportation.  She seemed a bit dejected.  Until I provided another option.

Uber is a mobile device-based system that allows users to call private cars for transportation.  Since drivers don’t have to pay for cab licenses, they can be much cheaper than taxi services.  For instance, my wife used the service to travel using an UberX car across town to the visit the Robie House that was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.  While a cab driver quoted a cost of $40 for the trip, it ended up costing my wife only $12.  She used the service several times to navigate the city and each trip was a fraction of what a cab would cost.  It was also quicker and more convenient than public transportation.  Uber saved the weekend.

This post isn’t really about navigating Chicago or about using Uber.  It’s about how we react to new technology.  My wife’s first reaction to my Uber suggestion was one of skepticism and caution.  While there are probably stories of Uber failures out there, my interaction with the service has always been positive.  It’s a new service though and some people react differently to new technologies and services.  Take the iPhone.  When it was introduced in 2007, people panned the design and the need for a phone that combines a computer with an iPod.  Who would we need that?  As it added location services and cameras and much more, the device (and its competitors) have become a ubiquitous part of our lives.  For better or worse, we wouldn’t have services like Yelp, Uber or Instagram without the power of the mobile device.  I can’t imagine traveling without interacting with those applications.

Alan Kay, the legendary computer scientist who has worked at Apple, Disney and Xerox, is often credited as saying that “technology is anything that was invented after you were born.”  For those of us of a certain age, we may not see telephones or televisions or refrigerators as new technology but they were at one time.  Now, these devices form a landscape of lifestyle and convenience to which previous generations were unaccustomed.  To my children, the services and applications supported by mobile technology they’ve had throughout their lives are not “new” technologies.  The tools just exist to provide entertainment, education, communication and convenience.  And that’s “uber” cool.


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