How Uber Embodies The New York Experience

Posted on: December 17, 2015

New York is a city of 8 million people, and Humans Of New York has done the incredible feat of reminding us that each of them has a name, a face, and a story. It’s changed how I think about the people I pass every day.  And it’s also changed how I approach a social setting that did not exist even 2 or 3 years ago – the world of Uber. 

So much has been said about the innovation of Uber, how it improves transportation by letting users customize their ride experiences and holding all drivers to a higher standard of quality.  That’s absolutely true.  But I’m also fascinated by the social dynamics of transportation apps.  Ridesharing brings people, often from different ages, backgrounds, and beliefs, together for a short time and lets us engage with those we might otherwise pass on the street and never meet. 

Facebook pages like Humans of Uber and Humans of Ridesharing show us a glimpse of their stories. (I highly recommend following these pages.)

Anyone can become a driver, whether they’re the new graduate still looking for the right job, the service worker taking on a second job to support their family, or even people like this rabbi in my community, who signed up to drive for the experience of it all.  You truly never know who you’ll encounter in an Uber.  I would even venture to say that it makes some part of the American Dream more accessible to anyone, with the click of a button.  

And then there are the completely randomized people you can match with on Uber Pool or Lyft Line, the carpool/shared-ride option.  I’ve discussed digital marketing with the market researcher who included me in his survey on music streaming because I’m the “perfect millennial”; seen New York City anew through the eyes of British tourists; taken music recommendations from the art and culture aficionados on their way to the Metropolitan Opera; and more.

It would be a lie to say that living in a city of this size and magnitude isn’t overwhelming sometimes.  How does anyone not get lonely in a crowd of 8 million people? I ask myself sometimes.  As I look for meaningful relationships in this new place, and “go out to the places that I will be from”, it’s important to remember that there is human connection to be found everywhere. 

Striking up a friendship with a driver is nothing new – remember Driving Miss Daisy (one of my favorite movies) and the entire taxi-driver-movie genre? – yet something about Uber/Lyft feels more personal.  Is it because we consciously make that click to choose a driver, not unlike how Tinder and dating apps work?  

Or maybe it’s because this is the perfect example of technology bringing strangers together.  We hear too many stories about where this goes wrong, and the few drivers who make headlines for all the wrong reasons.  Sure, I have to be careful as a young woman and safety is always at least in the back of my mind.  But what about when we encounter those who make things right in the world?

A few weeks ago, my driver was a recent Dominican immigrant.  He had just begun a sales job, and also started driving for Uber as a way to improve his English.  I sent him off with words of encouragement, and, hopefully, the warm feeling of connection for both of us. 

This week the roles reversed, as a driver picked me up from an interview.  “So when you get the job, what will you be doing?”, he asked.  When, not if.  I explained the job with extra confidence because someone else’s faith made me believe in myself again.  Whether you’ve known someone for five minutes or a lifetime, those interactions matter.

“We’re all just walking each other home.”  Or, perhaps, sharing a ride and some human connection in this crazy world.   


(I do not own this image)


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