Token driver

Token driver

The launch on the lake
The launch on the lake

I stepped back, took a wide shot. My little mirrorless looked like a toy compared to some of the big guns around. Looked like photographers were either professionals with ten thousand dollar cameras, or amateurs with smartphones. I was the middle ground.
A fabulous day. Bright and warm, Canberra with the big iconic buildings, the artificial lake, the long sightlines, the feeling of optimism and energy. What a buzz!
Flies were buzzing, too. I was kindly given a spritz of Aerogard from a nearby Segway kiosk, but most of the people were unprepared, and I’ll bet if you checked the footage carefully, some of the honchos in front of the cameras were dauntlessly munching down on blowflies as they put out their corporate or political spiels.
In the photo above, check out the cool young woman in the black t-shirt (hashtag #yeswecanberra) wearing the mirrorshades. She’s flanked by the other two drivers at the launch, Ulli from Switzerland, and Tom, who got the honour of taking the Chief Minister for the first official Uber ride in Canberra.
The hot blonde is not important, except to help me point out the drivers, but she is part of the Uber team. From comments passed, I don’t think they all work together in a big corporate headquarters, but rather log in from around the country (and the world) in some post-modern virtual work environment.
I’ll admit it. I’m impressed by the way these young men and women are shaking up the world. The promises of technology, the linked-in teams, the sheer power of the Internet: we’re seeing marvels created from nothing. AirBnb, Wikipedia, WordPress – these are things that are essentially nothing much but a few clever people engaging the coöperative behaviour of the rest of us to seize the day and make an impact.
AirBnB, which I’ve used a few times, is one of those internet things which have taken travel out of the main street travel agency and into the hands of anyone with an iPad. Wikipedia is kind of old hat nowadays, but it is really a marvel of how thousands of nerds can find ways to work together to create something incredibly useful. And WordPress, well, it lets nonentities like me find a global audience. Every now and then some blogger stumbles on some injustice, some magic moment, some sweet insight, and they are famous.
More prosaically, it lets all of us in the wired world see life through the eyes of people like ourselves. Or different in every way. I know a homeless guy living in Central Park, a pair of grey nomads roaming the world, a librarian in Oxfordshire, a pilot somewhere over the Middle East, a lady photographer in the Canary Islands – all blogging their happy way through life.
People like us. Take a look at those two drivers. Ulli on the left is another hot blonde who took the opportunity to don some Uber clobber. Out of Switzerland – St Moritz was mentioned – she’s lived in Canberra for years, knows everyone in the arts scene. She bought a brand new car for her Uber career.
Tom is a younger version of myself, who really should find a driving cap to cover up his bald spot out in the hot sun.
All three of us drivers were people like us. People like Canberra’s population of public servants. People who know the town, know the language, not exactly scrambling for every buck.
Someone in the Ubercloud probably picked us to be the public face of Uberdrivers in Canberra. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m all for this modern way of getting people from A to B and I think it will eventually transform our road-dominated cities into more livable places where people don’t need to own cars, but will have the convenience of a car magically appearing on demand.
But the vast majority of Uber drivers in Canberra won’t be locals of European ancestry. Not unless a whole bunch of retired public servants decide to make a few extra bucks with their cars and swamp the Uber website with applications. Which might well happen.
Most of the Uber drivers are exactly the same demographic makeup as Canberra’s taxidrivers. Young men born in Asia. And not a single one invited to the launch.
I’m sure there were sound corporate reasons for this, but I thought it just a little bit unfair on the people who are going to be doing all the real work. From what I’ve seen, these drivers have enthusiasm and energy to burn, and some of them drive cars that make my little silver Golf or the average Ford or Toyota taxi look boring.
You want a ride in a sapphire blue V8 driven by a guy who could be a Bollywood star? He’s out there, and he’s not going to be playing Mozart piano concertos on his CD system. Uber’s definitely a lot more colourful than whitebread old geezers like me.


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