In the future, ride-hailing passengers may conjure autonomous vehicles to their doorsteps with a few taps in an app. The vehicles are currently equipped with drivers. But some passengers seem to be able to transcend our technological limits to create a world in which human drivers are no longer necessary. These riders believe we’re already living in the age of autonomous vehicles.
My name is Dana and I am a Lyft driver. My Kia Optima Hybrid is a white 2016 Kia Optima. In the morning darkness, I collect passengers. Sometimes, when I accelerate along with the rider in my rear seat, it is possible to imagine that after reaching a certain speed, the real me vanishes. Lyft passengers often imagine that I am replaced with an invisible, generic driver.
Since I began working as a Lyft driver several years ago, my speech and actions were the same as those of the strangers with whom I interact every day. However, I quickly discovered that my passengers behaved differently than I thought they would when in the car of a stranger. My behavior changed later.
Although my experiences as a driver are based on mine, I consider the passengers’ perspective. I’ve heard from others that they are uncomfortable on silent rides. So, I start every conversation with some generic questions. You can tell when someone is looking for a calm ride. Other people want to have a conversation with someone, which I am happy to do. I’m also hearing from passengers about their experiences with drivers who make them feel uncomfortable, such as hitting them on the cheek or going on political rants. There have been incidents in which drivers were assaulted and passengers perpetrated on them. Drivers and passengers are strangers inside a moving vehicle. I believe some of the passengers’ indifference towards me may be their way of handling what can be frightening.
Many passengers tend to think that the app, my car and I are one big-app. As if the app makes the driving experience in the car a completely different one than the driving experience in the car of a man.
Robin Hanson is an associate professor of economics from George Mason University. He says, “The abstract hypothesis doesn’t seem crazy.” Hanson used an analogy for how servants were treated in history. You have servants that you must talk to in order to accomplish something, and you also have servants you do not need to speak to. I would expect the app to move people from one category to another.
“When we’re using these apps, our focus on doing the transaction is in carrying out the steps in the app as opposed to connecting with another person,” says Susan Schneider, director of the Center for the Future Mind at Florida Atlantic University. A person is no more than a step on an app. It’s crucial to recognize that a transaction is not just about a step in an app.
It’s not that I find it difficult to appear invisible. I find it more disturbing that apps can cause us to see our lives through a different lens, making them seem like something else. This may lead to experiences we don’t know exist. Empathy and care are not necessarily transferred to this layer. This layer can be created by using services that make life easier but also makes it difficult to connect with others. My experience was that I could see how my passengers would behave if driving in an autonomous vehicle.
Although I am a good listener, I sometimes lose my focus. Machines are indefatigable and attentive listeners. This is something I have learned through gig work. Let me give you an example.
Dec 25, 2020 was the day I picked up a mother and daughter. Lyft passengers can use the location pin feature to drag and drop the map to pick up their ride. Although I couldn’t drive to the pickup spot, I was within 25 feet. The daughter scolded me as soon as they got in my car. She had forgotten where the pin was. The daughter called every name in her book, and asked me to “call Lyft”, asking for a full refund. She began to repeat her daughter’s name repeatedly, and was shocked that she did this. The mother pleaded with her to apologize. It was not an easy task for the daughter to let go. The ride was canceled by me. The mother kept repeating her daughter’s name repeatedly. The worst passengers are the ones I have vivid memories. It is possible that I retain images of the worst-behaved passengers, which may increase my survival chances. Some people believe it could be a symptom or PTSD.
A couple of months later I saw her face in the “People You May Know” section on my Facebook page. It scared me. What’s the secret to her escape? Imagine if she was stalking you and wanted to vent about my location pin. She was not someone I wanted to befriend on Facebook. I couldn’t help hearing her in the car, and it seems that Facebook was paying attention too. Google may have been tracking the ride too.
Hanson says that thirty years ago, before there were so many surveillance and computer data on people, everybody was very concerned when it came up. People still believe that they have given away a lot of information but it isn’t being used against or will not be used against their very well. And it has never been explained to them how simple it would be to share the information. As a Lyft driver it was easy to see others through Lyft’s app and consider them abstractions.
Many of my passengers rely on me for essential services. They may be unable to drive themselves for different reasons. I am a kind of service animal, although it is a souped up version. Some passengers may not be able to access public transport or may have health conditions that prohibit them driving. It is gratifying knowing that I am helping others get to work, or simply to leave their home.
To make more money, however, it is important to take people to bars. Lyft is often fueled by alcohol. Lyft has replaced the friend who told you that you have had enough. These rides can be quite distressing.
The best way I can explain the actions of people in my car is with the mega-app theory. The issues aren’t quite as apparent as that Instant Pot’s worth of sweet and sour meatballs left on my backseat. These issues include privacy, medical, legal, and my liability for passengers’ actions, as well as maintaining human dignity and our sense of humanity.
For example, I have listened to Zoom therapy sessions being conducted by passengers. Two of my passengers died from overdosing in the car. During my 24-hour McDonald’s drive-thru, a couple began to change their clothes. Numerous times, I was threatened. A passenger demanded that I give him Viagra pills. He said, “You have to know how.” “Why don’t you tell me?” I didn’t know how. He was shocked that I hadn’t told him and continued asking until I left him at the motel where he had entered his address in the app. After we began the journey, he told me to hurry, as her appendix was almost to burst.
Strangely, however, passengers aren’t generally malicious or rude. More likely, the manner in which we are trained to use apps to help us get around and order food or make our lives easier also teaches them not to see the person–a human just like me–on other side of reality.
My passengers are likely to just need a safe and quiet ride. I offer that service. I worry about the loss of something fundamentally human by relying solely on apps. However, my perspective on social relationships has changed as I have been a driver. Technology is becoming more important. This has made me more open-minded about other people and less judgmental about my passengers. It’s been a great experience to meet amazing passengers with diverse backgrounds.
This can all seem like another driver complaining about customers, but it is possible to learn how to work from a position of social engagement and then disconnect when there are safety or boundaries concerns. These are some tips to help you get your next ride.
- Do not be shy to greet your driver.
- It’s okay to request a peaceful ride.
- You can tell your driver if you would prefer to take a different route.
- Ask questions.
Every week, news articles are published about autonomous vehicles. These stories suggest a future in which ride-hailing, as we know it, will be replaced by an autonomous car-powered service. Every story that I’ve read makes me think “nah”, the age of autonomous cars is here. It’s just that people have not yet realized it.
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Publited Sat, 4 Sep 2021 at 13:29.47 +0000