domingo, 22 de maio de 2016
Has convenience turned you into a monster?
Has convenience turned you into a monster?
John Paul Brammer
Sunday 22 May 2016 12.00 BST
Like me, you might be a liberal who loves Uber and Airbnb. But the darker side of the new economy isn’t something we can simply ignore
As I write this, I’m about to travel to beautiful, sunny Puerto Rico for a brief vacation. If all goes according to plan, there will be keys waiting for me in a mailbox outside an apartment in San Juan, which will hopefully look like the pictures I saw on the Airbnb website.
To get to the airport, I’m probably going to take an Uber, partly because I just moved to New York and still feel like a fool trying to wave down a cab, but mostly because calling an Uber is really, truly, ridiculously easy to do.
Welcome to the new economy, where convenience is king. It’s no wonder these kinds of services are popular – they give us just what we need, when we need them. They make fast lives possible. But is convenience turning us into monsters?
Trading ethics for comfort is par for the course in America
A high minimum wage, guaranteed medical leave for workers, and paid overtime are all issues young progressives have taken vocal positions on. But in an environment shaped by on-demand apps, workers are considered independent contractors or free agents, and job protections are eliminated. It’s a system that heavily favors the corporation over the laborer.
Strangely enough, however, progressives aren’t just giving their tacit approval to the sharing economy by spending their money with companies like Uber. They’re straight up coming out against protecting the workers involved. A survey from Pew found that Americans who use ride-hailing and home-sharing services are against regulating them. The people who use these services tend to be younger, and they tend to identify as Democrats.
The conclusion is obvious: we young progressives are hypocrites. We want corporations put in check, except when those corporations provide us a convenient service. We are against the exploitation of workers in theory, but in reality, we couldn’t care less about Uber drivers or about what they have to say about the weather during an awkward 15-minute drive.
Yes, that distant humming you hear is the anti-millennial thinkpiece machine revving up. To be clear, I do think some calling out is in order: we need to wake progressives up to the fact that workers are being taken advantage of.
But it’s also more nuanced than that.
I am reminded of another story in the news right now: people calling out Beyoncé, a noted feminist, for supposedly employing “sweatshop” labor in Sri Lanka for her new sportswear line. Critics say she is exploiting poor workers while many have come to her defense, arguing that she is providing Sri Lankan women with much-needed jobs.
But Beyoncé is not responsible for the system in which these ethically ambiguous situations arise. Nor are progressives or millennials responsible for the economic structures that allowed Uber to become such a juggernaut.
The reality is that to exist in a capitalist system is to engage with exploitation. I am writing this article on a MacBook, an Apple product. Apple has been accused of failing to protect workers, though it claims it does more than any other company to ensure fair conditions. Right now, I am wearing clothes that, in all likelihood, were made with exploited labor. Exploited laborers likely picked the food I eat.
If being a progressive required ideological purism, I would have to abscond to a yurt in nature, grow my own crops, make my own clothes, and never list that yurt on Airbnb as a romantic getaway in the woods.
So, yes, convenience has turned many of us into monsters. We are choosing our desire for ease over justice for Uber drivers. But every progressive could delete their app tomorrow, and it wouldn’t radically shift the tectonic plates that thrust Uber to prominence in the first place.
Trading ethics for comfort is par for the course in America. We can aspire to become conscious participants in the system. We can understand where our money is going before we give it out, and be aware of how our actions collude with economic oppression and exploitation. But I can’t help feeling that more is required. What could stop the march of convenience? It’s a question my generation may one day have to answer. But by then, will the luckier ones among us have become too comfortable to care?