Like most people, sometimes I see what’s coming, but sometimes I don’t. This piece is a shot in the dark: what I suspect is coming to our rather-near future. It just seems to make sense to me as various indicators point in the same direction.
In our hyper-connected society, more and more teenagers are choosing not to get their driver’s license, which, to my generation, was a rite of passage into adulthood. Today’s young people connect with their friends via social media. They are always connected.
Mom and dad drive them where they need to go, but, mostly, they just need to go to their handheld device or desktop computer. Over the past several years, an increasing number of parents have expressed to me a growing frustration with the fact that their children don’t want to even learn to drive. The kid’s technology and social media are the freedom the car represented to my generation. Besides, now, if you must travel, there’s Über.
In a city like San Francisco, where population and traffic density is high, using Über is more convenient and significantly cheaper than actually owning a car. The Über driver:
- shows up where I need him/her (so I don’t need to spend 8 minutes driving the car out of the 5th level of the garage),
- shows up when I need him/her, and
- drops me off exactly where I need to be
- without the nuisance of trying to find parking anywhere near my destination and having to pay dearly for it
I don’t have to worry with transit schedules and their associated headaches. At any given moment in time,24/7, numerous Über cars are available everywhere in the city.
More than Convenience
And, finally, all of the Über drivers I’ve ever had were fun, interesting and engaging people perhaps in part perhaps because people in San Francisco tend to be so. It’s a win-win for everybody and reduces traffic on the already over-crowded streets. You can even car share with Über, meeting other interesting people. Car share is even less expensive. I love using Über!
Using Über in town and renting a car for longer trips is far less expensive than car ownership. The cost of most cars is insanely high. In fact, I would assume that many if not most Americans can’t afford the new cars they drive and lease them instead. Then there is the fuel expense.1 Car insurance costs, especially for families with teenagers, is incredulously expensive.
Parking in a large city is crazy expensive. You have to pay to park at work. In some areas of town, you have to purchase a parking space separate from your living space because property is so expensive. Many people can not afford both. And, to add insult to injury, the vast majority of the time, this automobile that you pay so much money to own and operate is just sitting unused: parked in that parking space you have to pay money to use.
How much is your time actually worth to you? In San Francisco it literally takes me 8 minutes to go down to my car in the garage and drive it up to street to exit the garage. When I get near my destination, I begin searching for a place to park. It’s like living in the wild, wild West. You do the best you can to find a parking space within walking distance of your destination.
This whole time-intensive process literally discourages me from driving. I actually think quit seriously about taking any trip: Can I find a place within walking distance? Can I wait and combine this trip with another? Yes, using Über is vastly less expensive and requires far less time.
Über As Transportation Automated
With a cellphone in every customers’ hands and on the dashboard of the Über drivers’ cars, transportation has become a simple, reliable, automated, on-demand service that is affordable and astonishingly convenient. But Über isn’t the only way transportation is about to be automated and made even more affordable. We will have the self-driving car in the very near future. Semi-autonomous driving cars are already on the road.
Self-Driving Cars As Automated Transportation
What if that time could be leveraged to generate revenue? He envisions adding Über-like features to the Tesla app. The Tesla owner could enable his car to go into auto-driver service like an Über driver. Customers could have the car pick them up and take them to their destinations throughout the day, reserving time for the owner of the vehicle whenever s/he gets off work or otherwise needs transportation.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the car couldn’t pay for itself. The self-driving car could work 24/7 if the owner so chose. Elon Musk is already planning for this future.
But Über is already posing a new, interesting problem. And Elon Musk’s idea of the self-driving car on an uber-style leash to users through the Tesla app only amplifies what is already a growing problem.
The end result: the automotive industry is selling fewer cars in densely populated cities. And, of course, this can not be allowed.2
It’s Just How Things Are?
What I consider to be the great ponzi scheme of unfettered capitalism only works when more and more people consume more and more. The economy tanks when people consume less. Cars and the automotive infrastructure3 is a significant percentage of the economy.
But the whole of the automotive industry is only a small fraction of what I’m writing about. When any industry reaches a maximum saturation point, corporations have to find additional revenue streams to keep growing. In unfettered capitalism, it’s grow your margins or die.4
Not Just Transportation
Everyone who wants a smartphone has one. Real innovation in this sector seems to have stalled. What to do to grow margins? Media sales have stagnated. What to do to grow margins? These major industries have known this was coming, and I suspect they have set their plans in motion. When the clothing industry began to stall, fashion was born to make people feel a need to consume more.
Kevin Kelley suggests that we are entering a new era, a time in which common people will own nothing but have access to everything. Crazy expensive purses now can be rented, for a rental fee you get a new designer bag every month (and return last months model which was well, so last month!).
Another example: Apple has made public their plans to stop offering music (and probably video as well) purchases through the iTunes Store. In the rather near term, we can expect that we will only be able to rent access to every song ever made available. We will not own a copy of the media itself.
Stop paying you rental fee and you lose your access to everything.
CDs and DVDs already are almost a thing of the past. No media drives have been built into an Apple device in years. Steve wanted you to depend on his corporation for media. He wanted a continuous revenue stream rather than the sporadic purchase of individual tracks.
Soon we can expect to have to rent access to software for our smartphones, TVs, and computers as well. Adobe laid the groundwork for this just a few years ago when they stopped selling their industry-standard media tools, making them available for rent via the “Creative Cloud.”
The amount of RAM an application on the AppleTV can use on the device itself is so limited the apps are required to leverage RAM in the cloud instead. It’s not much of a leap to expect the app to run almost completely from the cloud in the not-too-distant future. Processing power may well be cloud-based, and computers in our hands may be basically dumb terminals: simply a user interface to everything in the cloud.
Government would love this. Corporations would love this. The power of the microprocessor will be restricted for your personal safety and security. The power to compute, after all, is also a weapon of mass destruction.
Maybe this will extend to cars and trucks and medical devices as well. The corporations have already established the legal precedent that the end user, of a pacemaker, for example, does not own his/her own data from that device. The corporation that manufactured the device owns it. Tesla owns our automotive data, not us. The data your smartphone gathers about you is not yours. It belongs to the corporation that manufactured the device to do with as they please, which, of course we blindly give them permission to do.
I think, given the present trajectory we are on, the corporations will own everything. We will be allowed to use anything we are willing to rent from them. Initially prices will be very attractive. Once the dependency is established, whoa! Theirs will be complete and total control to shut out, even delete, individual people at a whim, to control what you see when you do an internet search and what you never know exists at all. Just think how deep this can go. The thoughts are staggering.
If you extend this out to the extreme, as corporations buy/eat their competitors, you ultimately end up with one huge corporation that owns and controls everything, including world governments. We are, I suspect, heading toward this crazy dystopic world in which people matter only to the extent that they increase margins for the corporation.
I see our roads already beginning to be privatized in the southeast. You have to rent access to the fast lane. Prices rise when demand increases. But wait, wasn’t that road built with tax payer money? Is all of this part of some horrid plan to offload the cost of government and break it’s capacity to meet the needs of our citizens while increasing profit for private corporations that will own the roads and bill us to use them? Reducing taxes sounds great until the corporation expropriates those same funds to themselves as profit. Soon, taxes will seem very, very inexpensive compared to what the corporation charges people to use the corporation’s roads, prisons, public education infrastructure, etc.
I also think the whole “too-big-to-fail” notion is wrongheaded. I think we had anti-trust laws for good reasons. They protected the value of people as people. I suspect that in Überciety, people are forced to be dependent on the devices (cars, roads, smartphones, washers, stoves, lights, etc.) they can rent from their corporate overlords, devices that will be used to totally control and manipulate them, and the number of those overlords will shrink as they aggregate power and wealth. The Überciety overlords will know everything there is to know about us, and they will use that in every way that they can to their advantage, especially to increase their profits.
We go gladly into Überciety. We go blindly into it. We swear allegiance to it. Over time we let corporations encroach deeper into our private lives. I personally suspect that the evil satan is not the government, as the spin doctors would have us believe. The evil satan is the unfettered greed of the corporations in an unfettered capitalist machine that eats people, governments and companies—a machine in which corporations are already considered people by their carefully strategized manipulations of the justice system.
I don’t think this path is inevitable, but I do know that the United States in which I grew up is not at all the same country in which I now live. I don’t like what I see coming. I don’t like Überciety.
I still want to know why it suddenly and inexplicably dropped so much in such a short period. And it remains relatively low… ↩
The ÜS automakers bought up and dismantled mass transit in high density cities to increase car sales near the beginning of the last century, and the traffic horrors that grew into things like Los Angeles gridlock were born. “A group called National City Lines, made up of several companies — including General Motors, Firestone, Standard Oil of California and Phillips Petroleum — formed in the 1920s to buy up streetcar systems around the country and convert them to bus lines, making auto travel mandatory. What the group did not only stifled public transportation, it was also illegal. Although National City Lines was found guilty of conspiracy to monopolize public transit, they were only fined $5,000.” Source: How Stuff Works ↩
this includes the sacred cow that created/funds the whole concept of terrorism: the oil industry ↩
Maybe the automotive industry will buy Über and Lyft, and shut them down like they did metro area transit in the 1900’s? Maybe, like Tesla, they will embrace this über-style inevitability in their business model. ↩