Spoils of the Privileged

“Spoils of the privileged.” A phrase thrown around not uncommonly about services like Uber and Airbnb. I find this phrase an incomplete assessment, one driven mostly be emotion. There are two problems with this criticism I want to address:

  1. It doesn’t account for economic pressures to optimize process efficiency
  2. It implies these things need to justify their cost vs. more “worthwhile” efforts

New things start out expensive because they’re new and get cheaper as they optimize

Uber and Airbnb aren’t spoils for the privileged. They’re infant services experiencing a perfectly normal economic process: new things start out expensive and get cheaper as their components and processes become cheaper. It happened with electricity, cars, computers, and it will continue to happen with new industries and products.

It’s of course no coincidence these specific services are picked on. After all, just look at the people who get into an Uber cab: on an iPhone, paying a premium rate, and getting into a black towncar. Talk about deluxe.

Or at least that’s how it worked for a while.

Let’s look at Uber as it exists now in 2013. Uber offers not just towncar service but also regular cab service and even “uberX”-certified independent drivers driving their own Prius or Corolla.

And even the price argument is no longer valid: uberX prices are now 10% lower than taxi prices. The transition from infant service to grown-up, cheaper-than-the-incumbent service has occurred. This same transition will occur with all “spoils of the privileged” services in time.

The cost justification argument

Let’s extract this argument out of being ad hominem: really what people are upset with is big money spent on (relatively) lavish things when there’s also so much economic disparity in the world.

Again, would the same people who make this complaint be upset with the advent of electricity and how it began as an expensive utility for a few wealthy people and gradually grew? How about cars? Or computers? Each experienced the exact same growth from infantile project used by a few people for a high cost to a permanent utility produced as cheaply as possible.

Ever heard the question “When there are so many problems on Earth, why should we spend money on going into space?” NASA hears this every day. Peter Marquez points out a great answer from the NSC’s space policy during Eisenhower’s presidency:

“More than by any other imaginative concept, the mind of man is aroused by the thought of exploring the mysteries of outer space. Through such exploration, man hopes to broaden his horizons, add to his knowledge, improve his way of living on earth.”

In other words it’s not a trade-off. In fact it’s the opposite: only by being bold and innovating across the board do we discover better solutions that can cross-polinate. Building Uber doesn’t preclude us from solving other problems at the same time; building Uber gives us new insights into solving large-scale problems in new, more efficient ways.

One final thought: everything is on a spectrum. So if, for example, you have a problem with Dave Morin saying San Francisco is a city of the future because we spend more money on things that make our lives better, keep in mind at least one thing you use is nicer than something somebody else uses. Was that nicer, more expensive product worth producing? Of course. Why? Because progress.

I originally wrote this in 2013 on my blog, Noble Pioneer. Don’t miss the conversation there too.


Header photo credit: The Great Leap Forward via photopin(license)

You’re Only Going to Live for 10,000 Days

Less than 12,000 waking days of your life are fully under your control.

To wit:

  • 70 years: adult female life expectancy (worldwide average)
  • -22 years: school (48 years left)
  • -16 years: sleep

Total: 32 waking years (48–16 = 32)

That means you have 11,680 waking days, or 280,320 waking hours. Doesn’t exactly feel the same as 70 years does it?

Which is not to say life isn’t still equally worthwhile. On the contrary: the bright side caveat of this countdown is that it doesn’t start until you’re 22 years old. So if you’re 30 years old that means you have 26.7 waking years left (or just under 10,000 waking days).

32 years is plenty of time to do amazing things; world-changing things. Still — I don’t know about you but — knowing less than 12,000 waking days of my life are fully under my control really makes me want to make every day count.

Minka

A film about place and memory, a farmhouse in Japan, and the lives of the people who called it home.

Read about the making of the film at NYTimes.com: In Japan, a Farmhouse Becomes a Journalist’s Elegy

A Japanese student and an American journalist rescue an ancient farmhouse

In 1967, Associated Press foreign correspondent John Roderick and a young university student named Yoshihiro Takishita transported a ‘minka,’ a type of traditional farmhouse, from the Japanese Alps to the forested Tokyo suburb of Kamakura. The massive timber structure came to define both their lives. Filmed just following Roderick’s death at ninety-three, Minka uses the house to investigate the nature of love and memory, and what it means to make a home.

Awards:

Cinema Eye Honors, Nominee, Outstanding Achievement in Nonfiction Short Filmmaking
International Documentary Association Awards, Nominee, Best Documentary Short
Florida Film Festival, Grand Jury Award for Best Documentary Short
Savannah Film Festival, Special Jury Award

Selections:

Official Selection: True/False Film Festival, Aspen Shortsfest, Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, Hot Docs International Documentary Festival, DOC NYC, Sheffield Doc/Fest, SILVERDOCS, Palm Springs ShortFest, Camden International Film Festival, Architecture Film Festival Rotterdam, Louisville’s International Festival of Film, Tacoma Film Festival, DOK Leipzig, New Orleans Film Festival, Hawaii International Film Festival, Architecture and Design Film Festival (NYC), Bergen International Film Festival, Rocky Mountain Women’s Film Festival, Starz Denver Film Festival, Red Rock Film Festival

Crew:

Directed, Produced and Photographed by Davina Pardo
Produced by Andrew Blum
Executive Produced by Tyler Hayes
Consulting Producer Deborah Shaffer
Editor Lila Place
Additional Camera Liam Dalzell
Original Music Max Avery Lichtenstein

birdlings.com
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