Uber: A lesson from History.

imagesJudging by the headline this afternoon the UBER app which we wrote about a couple of weeks ago is about to deliver a lesson from history. UBER is causing unrest amongst the traditional Black Cab drivers. As reported on the BBC this afternoon, the situation is summed up thus:

“Black-cab driver Lloyd Baldwin is in no doubt. “Our beef with Uber is that these drivers have come straight into London, and have been licensed straight away by Transport for London. We’re regulated to within an inch of our lives.”    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology

Which is a pretty legitimate reason for concern.  The question is however, just how much should the rise of technology be tempered by the logic of social  adhesion, social order or tradition?

This isn’t the first time this sort of thing has happened. Remember the luddites? Not first hand ofcourse but through your school days their place in history was often featured.  For a quick reminder visit http://www.victorianweb.org/history/riots/luddites.html  where the following makes the parallel clear.

“Luddites were men who took the name of a (perhaps) mythical individual, Ned Ludd who was reputed to live in Sherwood Forest.  The Luddites were  trying to save their livelihoods by smashing industrial machines developed for use in the textile industries of the West Riding of Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, Leicestershire and Derbyshire………  The men merely were attacking what they saw as the reason for the decline in their livelihoods.”

And since then there have been countless similarly impassioned cries to temper or regulate the march of technology as it smashes through the professions and skills of our forefathers. Any automation in any factory has destroyed livelihoods of many and created new jobs for a few. The GCE level knowledge of social history that most of us carry around should be enough to help us recognise the tensions that are inevitable when technology advances.  Motor industry, Henry Ford’s first production line, The Coal industry, Steel, and above all, farming. Imagine the dissenting voices as the first motorised tractors took to the countryside, doing the work of 20 labourers for a fraction of the price. There were indeed ructions and convulsions throughout the land as transport improved, allowing movement of machinery by canal and later by road, increase in commerce developed and new methods and ideas spread quickly to revolutionize land use.

The Black Cab drivers are appealing to that great friend of civilized society – “Justice”. Their position is that only they, who are regulated by Transport for London, should be permitted to use a “metering system”. This is seen to be sacrosanct amongst cabbies and they are adamant that the use of a smart phone which measures time and distance via satellite and GPRS technology, constitutes metering.  Thats a no brainer isn’t it? Measuring time and distance……. is metering, no argument there! That being a fact they argue that its unfair for UBER to use such a meter. That’s their point and some may say that it’s a pretty feeble one based on arbitrary rule dreamt up in a bygone era (ie the 60s!). Rules change, sands shift, horizons adjust. Why not allow a competitor to meter i.e. measure time and distance?. Cabbies have no IP of measuring time and distance surely?

Well, since this is not meant to be a social history blog that’s history finished for today. Lets treat this topic as food for thought. The UBER app (available on both Apple and Google Play, seems to be a further advancement in what is a technologically determined age that we live in. That’s the point surely. It is widely acknowledged that this is the age of technology so why would anyone be surprised when a little advancement occurs and disrupts the traditions and rocks the Status Quo. Roll on UBER 2. As sure as chips are chips, and satellites are satellites ringing the planet enabling the communications, mapping and other technologies of today, it’ll be along sometime soon. Brace yourselves. or er…beam me up scotty.