Is Uber a transportation company or a technology company? We know their passengers are customers (with all the manipulation and data mining that goes along with that), but what about their drivers? Are they independent contractors, consumers, or heaven forbid, employees? Uber argues for each alternative, depending on the situation. Technology ethnographer Rosenblat breaks those arguments down, focusing on bait and switch recruiting, misleading fares, skimmed tips, and algorithm-based processes that take the ‘independent’ out of contractor. And when something goes wrong, drivers are left to automated responses and powerless offshore call centers. That means there’s less about the specific toxic culture of Uber (though she hardly ignores them) and more about problems that are more endemic to all sharing platforms. Based on Uber’s previous run ins with journalists, Uberland includes a chapter on methodology, as well as copious notes. It’s what I’d call accessible academic, so expect less storytelling and more thesis support. But if you’re interested, as I am, in what technology is doing to our lives, it’s must reading.— Daniel Goldin
The neutral language of technology masks the powerful influence algorithms have across the New Economy. Uberland chronicles the stories of drivers in more than twenty-five cities in the United States and Canada over four years, shedding light on their working conditions and providing a window into how they feel behind the wheel. The book also explores Uber’s outsized influence around the world: the billion-dollar company is now influencing everything from debates about sexual harassment and transportation regulations to racial equality campaigns and labor rights initiatives.
Based on award-winning technology ethnographer Alex Rosenblat’s firsthand experience of riding over 5,000 miles with Uber drivers, daily visits to online forums, and face-to-face discussions with senior Uber employees, Uberland goes beyond the headlines to reveal the complicated politics of popular technologies that are manipulating both workers and consumers.
About the Author
Alex Rosenblat is a technology ethnographer. A researcher at the Data & Society Research Institute, she holds an MA in sociology from Queen’s University and a BA in history from McGill University. Rosenblat’s writing has appeared in media outlets such as the New York Times, Harvard Business Review, the Atlantic, Slate, and Fast Company. Her research has received attention worldwide and has been covered in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, MIT Technology Review, WIRED, New Scientist, and the Guardian. Many scholarly and professional publications have also published her prizewinning work, including the International Journal of Communication and the Columbia Law Review.