Tech, inhumanity, and responsibility

I had an experience today with Lyft, the ride-share service. It starts like an inconvenience but what emerges is a cautionary tale about removing humanity.

I was a little too slow to get my luggage out of the trunk of my Lyft and so he departed. I was busy, hilariously, taking longer to put in higher type amount because the ride was very short. It happens. Whose fault? A little bit of both probably but it’s a relatively easy problem to fix if it were a cab. A quick call and the driver would have turned around.

But Lyft doesn’t allow that option. You can communicate with your driver directly only to arrange pickup but never again. So I went into the app and found the lost item section and sent a message but the message failed to send and so I was offered access to their so-called customer service. They were… unhelpful.

They ran me around a bit by informing me I needed to go to the lost item section, which is how I got there in the first place. Eventually they said they’d contact the driver and proceeded to close the chat and then, when I tried to re-initiate, they prompted me with a message affirming that they didn’t offer insurance, bore no responsibility, and I should contact the police for stolen property.

Now I didn’t think the driver had robbed me so this was a bit off-key to me. I would receive this message three more times in my attempts to impress upon customer service that time was a factor as I needed to catch a flight.

Eventually, they demanded a screenshot of the failed message screen. This baffled me as I could not return to the past to view it, much less take a picture. So I informed them that their own app strongly suggests that I call the police because they bore no responsibility. So I threatened to do just that. By this point, I was suddenly able to send my driver a message to no avail. This included informing him that I was to file a police report.

So… I had to board my flight. When I got home, still nothing. Six hours later and no word. Finally, I reached out to their customer service again and threatened to tell this story on Twitter. Not even five minutes later, my driver texts me. Here’s the twist…

He reported my luggage left not five minutes after dropping me off. He never received any messages. They happily threw their employee under the bus and encouraged me to sick the police after him.

Customer service informed me that they couldn’t contact the driver but apparently they can. They were desperate to convince me that they were helpless, unable to take any responsibility, but that was a lie.

The point of this story is that they turned a mild inconvenience into a debacle simply because they couldn’t put information together and they were desperate to avoid responsibility of any kind. This is the product of removing human beings from our interactions. We feel for each other. We have guilt and responsibility and we can be negotiated with. But not algorithms…

Lyft, like so many other tech companies, has stripped away the humanity and relationships upon which commerce is built. What appears to be an innovation is in fact kafkaesque lottery. Most of the time it works wonderfully but if anything goes wrong, you enter a nightmare. That is what big tech has brought us. That is the price of their efficiency. It’s Amazon factory workers pissing in bottles lest they stray too far from their conveyor belts. It’s endless trite apologies that mimic understanding and sympathy but produce none of the actions that those emotions would. It’s reducing humans down to a transaction or a resource to be mined for data or money.

This isn’t the radical left, this is other villain: the transhumanist. What the radical left does is judge reality insufficient. What the transhumanists do is judge humanity insufficient. It is, perhaps, mostly an inability to deal with our mortal nature. They’re both engaging in the sin of pride. Their judgments are so deeply arrogant that it’s unfathomable.

A taxi cab costs a little more but the man who brought me to airport, in the nick of time, had just been locked out of his apartment by a smartlock that his landlords had just changed to. Why this is better than a key is beyond me, but suffice to say, he understood my plight. When I told him when my flight was, he said to me "I know this city and I know the traffic… I can get you there but it’ll be close. He did. He didn’t use any maps and he didn’t just drive me with hope. He considered my problem seriously and gave me his expert opinion and he then delivered. I tipped him accordingly. Made his day, according to him, but you see… he salvaged mine. Sure, I didn’t have my luggage and still don’t, but I had the privilege of having a human experience with a man who saw the world as it was. He was a late-fifties black man who, as we discussed my problems with big tech, navigated the conversation to Trump… and he loved the man. I bring this up only because his values in understanding my frustration with Lyft (and his new lock) corresponded to his frustration with what the media and institutions did to Trump, versus what he’d done for us.

This alignment is a deep one that we must explore. What is happening to our nation and world is deeply inhuman and people of all stripes feel it in their bones. We must articulate what it is that they feel, most deeply, because it is at the core of our project.

And maybe it’ll prevent me from losing my luggage again.


Thank you for sharing this!

This is excellent. Would be nice to see it polished up and published somewhere as an Op-ed