Now that “software is eating the world,” in the words of Marc Andreessen, every once in awhile, we dinosaur types like to try our luck in the land of Web 2.0, 3.0, or Whatever.0 we’re on at the moment. To that end, I recently applied to become a driver at Lyft, the “ride-sharing” service where drivers who drive their own personal vehicle with a giant pink moustache lashed to the grille (the Lyft trademark) are summoned to your location at the touch of an app. This way, users don’t have to do the unthinkable, like look away from their smartphone while hailing a cab. I signed up—for a potential story, mind you, not out of insecurity. Like all proud Americans—say, bookstore managers or travel agents—I know that if/when the bottom falls out of my business, print journalism, there’ll be a good job waiting for me in an Amazon fulfillment warehouse, assuming it hasn’t been automated by then.
Lyft is part of the new “sharing economy,” which holds it is better to share than to own, even if “sharing,” a term of art and moral preening, is actually more akin to renting, since goods and services are exchanged for money. We formerly called this “commerce.”
Nowadays, an app-topian can have his every whim catered to by sharing. He can share a house-as-a-hotel through Airbnb or a parking space through ParkAtMyHouse, or can even commandeer a Boy Friday at a button’s push to pick up his laundry or run a brick of heroin across town through the good folks at TaskRabbit. Pretty soon, an app will likely allow you to “share” your wife and children, and you’ll probably need the extra scratch. After all, who can afford to support them, what with the middle class becoming a memory as the app-topians find ever-more-efficient ways to render entire occupations like cab-driver obsolete, while replacing them with part-timers and odd-jobbers who want to meet cool people while expressing themselves.
Like all sharing-economy companies, Lyft comes wrapped in gauzy lingo, calling itself “your friend with a car,” even though my friends don’t charge me a safety fee or a $6 minimum, and don’t require my credit-card information ahead of time. (If I needed more fake friends, I’d just join Facebook like everybody else.) Drivers are required to fist-bump passengers. Chumminess is encouraged. (Passengers can ride shotgun and charge their phones!) Zaniness is celebrated. Lyft even highlights driver antics on Twitter (#Lyftcreatives) for those who pose as The Dude from The Big Lebowski or who trick out their Camry with karaoke equipment.
For Lyft is not just a ride, it’s an “experience.” Lyft loves to tell “stories,” mostly about itself, and never passes up a social-media opportunity to do so. So endemic has storytelling become to the app-topian economy (some companies have titles like “chief storyteller”) that even bricks’n’mortar types seem to be aping them. Recently, I spied Dunkin’ Donuts begging me to “share your Dunkin’ story,” as if I’d want to advertise that I’d just ingested one of their sugar-coated calorie bombs. (My #Dunkinstory: I say to a Dunkin’ cashier, “Put two vanilla crèmes in the bag, then let’s pretend I was never here.”)
My Lyft story isn’t much longer. After cleaning my car, downloading the app, and taking a “mentor ride” where a seasoned Lyft driver assessed how skillfully I could steer my Honda with a knee while balancing my GPS device and phone, I was waitlisted, because of an excessive pool of applicants. Or maybe it was because I asked if I could serve beer, to enhance the friend/passenger experience.
When I later took compare-and-contrast rides with a Lyft driver, then a cabbie, my Lyft driver fist-bumped me, chatted my ear off, played trendy world music, and even remarked how the picture on my Lyft-mandated Facebook account didn’t look much like me—probably because my stooge-account profile photo is of a young Brad Pitt. My Moroccan cabbie did not fist-bump me, played no music, and mostly talked about how Lyft drivers were eating his livelihood, though these amateurs had no idea where they were going, even with their Google maps. The cabbie didn’t give me much of an experience at all, except one: He got me to the same destination five minutes faster and seven bucks cheaper than the Lyft driver, using only the map in his head.
The cabbie worries he’ll be out of work if Lyft persists. I offer him small consolation: One of the joys of the Disruptive Economy is watching the self-congratulatory disruptors get disrupted themselves. Let’s see if my friends with a car still want to fist-bump me when I’m riding in a self-driving cab.