A technology ethnographer reports on the four years she spent studying Uber—riding with and interviewing the company's drivers in more than two dozen cities—to understand the complicated politics of popular technologies that are manipulating both workers and consumers.
Are Uber drivers employees, clients, or customers? This is an important question that Rosenblat’s new book asks ... Rosenblat’s book is a combination of sociological analysis, excerpts from Uber-driver online forums, communications with Uber executives and employees, and an avalanche of in-person interviews with drivers from all over the United States and Canada. Her analysis isn’t a polemic; it is balanced and measured ... Rosenblat’s book urges us to wipe the techno-enthusiasm from our eyes and see Uber isn’t much different than any other major corporation with obligations to scores of employees.
Drawing on four years of ethnographic research among Uber drivers, Rosenblat has produced a thoroughly dystopian report that details how millions of drivers are now managed by a computerized system that combines the hard authoritarianism of Frederick Winslow Taylor with the cynical cheerleading of Michael Scott ... Cab drivers have typically occupied a benighted role in the public imagination: hustlers, criminals, or, at best, misanthropic folk philosophers. Rosenblat offers a valuable history of the ideological work that went into the 'gentrification' of the profession ... Rosenblat...maintains a sometimes-unnerving cool while narrating tales of outrageous exploitation ... Uberland conveys a variety of driver experiences that you rarely get from exposés about Uber’s work conditions, which focus on extreme cases ... After efficiently exposing how Uber’s rhetoric about 'driver-partners' is essentially a rhetorical smokescreen, it was disorienting to see Rosenblat basically come around to their main point, that work done on the platform might not really be work, even if her emphasis is more critical ... Rosenblat’s argument would go down easier if it was rooted in the specific history of the taxi industry, instead of an abstract notion of 'work.' But a quick glimpse at that history suggests Uber’s algorithmic management is less a revolution than a refinement.
This revelatory study by technology ethnographer Rosenblat ... makes clear that, contrary to the ads promoting Uber as a 'pathway to the middle class for anyone who wanted to drive,' ride-sharing service drivers must struggle to make such work profitable ... This jargon-free and intriguing exposé offers food for thought for anyone interested in worker protections or societal changes driven by technology.