How the Language of the Sharing Economy Devalues All Our Labour

So, yesterday the CEO of Uber made a damn fool of himself in the back of one of his cars. He ain’t been having a good year has he? I mean, seems like he deserves most of the shit he been getting on account of Uber, the company under his control, being a dumpster fire and him being this colossal arse. There’s the sexism and harassment complaints coming out, the way they tried to undermine the taxi protests, the continued alignment with the Trump presidency, and now him just being a generally unpleasant arse. It not a good look on him.


But did you see the linguistic slip I made there in the first sentence, the one that seemingly lets him, and the rest of us, go blind to all the flaws of the operation?

I said it was his car. It isn’t his car, it’s the car of the dude driving. I mean, literally, that guy there is the one that own the car, pays for its upkeep and maintenance, pays for the fuel that goes in the tank, he the one that’s driving it around the city every damn day. It’s his car. But then why, when starting to write did I say it belonged to the CEO of Uber, the bougie prick who I sincerely doubt has driven anywhere hisself in the past five years?

It’s because of the language that these people have put into our mouths. You see it happening everywhere nowadays, Uber is just an easy example and culturally relevant punching bag, though let’s not stop treating them that way when they leave the news cycle, they’ve shown little to deserve respite. The whole of the increasingly misnamed ‘sharing’ economy is guilty of propagating these mind parasites.

For what is the name of the company? Uber. What is the name of each physical manifestation of the company’s presence? Uber. ‘I’m going to catch an Uber’ one says, privileged, pissed, staggering on the pavement at the end of a wild night out. See, Uber has provided us with no language to differentiate the individual cars (whch, if they had their way, they would insist are self-employed) from the company as a whole. Therefore, we have no linguistic way of separating the labour performed by those in the driver’s seats from the company as a whole.

Let’s look at the taxi as an already existing counterpoint. Despite the prevalence of the word, taxi is still a singular. One will catch a taxi, now that will often be a part of some taxi company with some silly name (which, yes, will often include the word taxi) but the language with which we are able to communicate the concept remains singular. This allows us to rationalise linguistically the relationship between the passenger and the driver, the personal transitionary nature of the arrangement, Labour for compensation.

Uber and its contemporaries are inherently fearful of this. They do not want their users (eugh, users, there’s another disarming word) to have to confront the realities of the dichotomy of power and privilege in play in any transactional arrangement. That’s why physical money is taken out of the process. That’s why their language is one that centres on a corporate relationship rather than a personal one.

Because, if the users start to confront the nature of the exploitative capitalist heart at the centre of the operation, the concept of the sharing economy loses all its power. The seemingly egalitarian and collaborative nature of the form, which suggests that driver and passenger are engaged in a mutually beneficial arrangement, is revealed for the capitalist exploitation it really is.

See, Uber knows its uses are mostly gonna be younger people, and the world is seemingly starting to learn of the young’s growing distrust of capitalism’s false promises. It tries its level best to encourage us that it different, and although people realise it isn’t and the flaws present in the company and the system it has created are the same as exist in all society: sexism, racism, classism, the continued oppression of the proletariat masses; we still lack the language to discuss it that does not, inherently, put the corporation in a position of power.

Again, this ain’t just Uber, this all the companies that the rich white pay to get the poor to do all their unwanted tasks for them, Uber’s just the biggest, which makes it a great place to start. It don’t have to be hard, the most important part is to confront for yourself the systemic nature of exploitative capitalism, you don’t even gotta stop participating at first. Hell, to completely opt out of capitalist life with no safety net in this age would be tantamount to suicide. That’s why you only seeing the rich do it.

First step is to design a language that serves to centre the disempowered in the conversation, rather than relying on the powerful to dominate the conversation. Which is where my usefulness ends, because I don’t really have a solid of what that would be, how that would work. Aside from the imperfect suggestion of the switch in consciousness into calling individual Uber cars taxis, which exist separate from Uber as a corporation. However, this still places them in within the framework of a different type of disempowerment.

If anyone has any suggestions for a better way for us to talk about these topics, better language to use, suggest something. Anything would be better than what we have now.

Image credit: Bloomberg

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