Congratulations to Uber, a company currently valued at $67 billion by the stock market that has never made any money and lacks a viable business model, for finding another new and novel way to dehumanize its workforce.
Last night, the company announced an “enhanced Uber Black experience,” referring to the company’s luxury car service. This will include an option to tell your driver to change the temperature, help you with luggage, or more pointedly, to just shut the fuck up.
Of course, that’s not how Uber describes it. The company bills it as a “Quiet Mode” riders can select before getting into the car, so that “if you need to respond to emails or are in the mood for a nap, make your trip a quieter one with just one tap.”
The product page adds that “if you’re in the mood to chat, that’s an option too.” No one will select this. But in some ways it’s just as bad as the Shut The Fuck Up Mode. It also creates an unfair expectation for someone who is not being paid to be your therapist or whatever.
This is the core hypocrisy of the contract labor market. The purveyors of the gig economy reserve the right to ask its workers to do pretty much anything to please the customer but insist on paying them as if their job description is vanishingly narrow.
The noteworthy aspect of this feature is not that Uber made it—the entire company is fundamentally based on the idea that drivers do not deserve basic rights and dignities—but that apparently every person along the product development chain thought being able to give instructions to the driver without speaking to them is a genuine problem that needed to be solved. A real innovation.
The worst part of it is, they’re probably right. Uber Black customers will almost certainly eat up the fact that they will have actual recourse to complain about drivers who talk to them. No longer will they have to wonder if their driver will try and make conversation with them to pass the time during 12 hour driving shifts. God forbid they actually exhibit any degree of curiosity in their drivers’ lives. Such interaction might actually force them to learn something about how people who can’t afford three-figure cab rides live, what challenges they face, and whether this whole economic setup is sustainable or even morally acceptable.
No. As the new setting is labelled, “quiet preferred.”