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Uber; verb; to click a button and magically transport from point A to point B

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Uber; verb; to click a button and magically transport from point A to point B

Uber deserves its own section on Taitum Brooks phone.

Uber deserves its own section on Taitum Brooks phone.

Taitum Brooks

Uber deserves its own section on Taitum Brooks phone.

Taitum Brooks

Taitum Brooks

Uber deserves its own section on Taitum Brooks phone.

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It’s Wednesday afternoon, soccer practice has just ended. Your mom is in a meeting and your dad is stuck at work. How do you get home?

You’re 15, and you want to go to a friend’s house, but your parents don’t want to drive you, what do you do?

It’s Friday night. You have been out all night partying with your friends around San Francisco, but now it’s time to go home. How do you get there?

Uber.

Since its launch in March 2009, Uber has climbed the ranks, and achieved “verb status” among the American public. Sitting alongside other companies like Google and Netflix, the influence of Uber is undeniable. Millions of Americans use the smartphone-based app to get themselves around every day, with the simple tap of their finger. However, while designed for users ages 18 and older, it has had an even greater impact on the high school population and culture as a whole.

An Uber driver cruising around San Francisco.

The saying “Uber everywhere”, referencing a Travis Scott song, showcases the influence and domination Uber has over American society. The introduction of Uber created several openings into the minds and workings of high schoolers. Its influence is not simply limited to easy transportation, but actually has an impact on almost every problem that an average teenager might face.  

Even though Uber drivers are not allowed to take passengers under 18 years of age, high schoolers are some of the most frequent users.

Sydney Ghobadian, a 16-year-old high school sophomore is a frequent Uber user and has only ever been denied service once.

“It’s weird because I’ve taken so many Ubers and it’s the only one that’s even asked me if I’m 18,” said Ghobadian.

According to a study done by Global Web Index in August 2017, 37 percent of all Uber users are between the ages of 16 and 24. Whether it be the desire for independent transportation, designated drivers, or breaking down stereotypes, Uber has embedded itself into high school today, but not without a cost.

Freedom

It is no secret that high schoolers crave freedom, and will go to great lengths to feel as though they have it. However, Uber has simplified this problem. Even without a license, teenagers are now able to reliably get from one place to the next, without their parents’ aid.

“Having Uber and having a reliable system where I was able to get around safely and efficiently was huge, especially I think for high schoolers who grow up in SF. It allowed the ability to move around and have more access to more places that weren’t accessible by bus,” says Genna Gores, a 2014 Urban School graduate. Uber has been a game changer. Those who do not or can not drive a car no longer need one to have access to places that they would never have gotten to before.

Uber lifts a weight off of both the young people and their parents’ shoulders. Because of its 24/7 availability, Uber also has provided parents an easy solution to get their kids places if they cannot do it themselves.

Andy Mercy, a parent of three teenagers has definitely found it to be convenient.  

“If my daughter is up at gymnastics practice in San Rafael, and for some reason or other we can’t seem to get there, then we will use Uber,” said Mercy.

For Ghobadian, Uber has allowed her to get to soccer practices in faraway places without having to rely on her parents.

Uber has become a reliable back up plan for both parents and teenagers for when they find themselves in a tight situation. Instead of having to leave work to pick up their children, or making them wait, parents can now just call an Uber to take their child home.

But this backup plan is starting to be used more and more simply out of convenience and sometimes a bit of laziness. With the instant click and arrival of an Uber, a young person’s opportunity and ability to problem-solve has become irrelevant.

“When I was a kid,” said Mercy, “you had to look in your pocket and see if you had the money for the taxi fare and often times you didn’t so you ended up finding another way.”

No longer are kids faced with this dilemma of finding a practical and economical ride because they always have a personal driver just a tap of the finger away. Whether they need a ride to soccer practice, home from school or a party, or even just to get food, Uber has become the number one solution for teens to solve these problems.

Teenagers do not have to be creative anymore when it comes to transportation because if they have a phone, they have a ride. It has taken all the fun and adventure out of getting places in high school, teenagers no longer have to work to get around.

On the other hand, this ready solution has actually been beneficial to some teens when it comes to drinking and driving.

Impaired Driving

The high school drug and alcohol culture has always required designated drivers, and Uber is alleviating that risk.

High school is a time when many teenagers find themselves wanting to experiment. However, when they get themselves into situations like drunk driving, it can become exponentially more dangerous. Uber has made this problem almost obsolete.

“Absolutely,” said Sean Clark, Marin Academy Class of 2016, when talking about Uber, “It definitely cut down the drunk driving, 100 percent.”

Rather than having to worry about a safe ride home, parents and teens know that they, or their children, can always call an Uber home if they need to. The need for designated drivers has been replaced with the need for cell reception and a friend to split the fare with.

Teenagers who decide to experiment now have a safe alternative to get themselves home. According to Clark, the frequency with which teens decide to drink and drive has drastically gone down since the launch of Uber.

In a working paper by Jessica Lynn Peck of the Graduate Centre at the City University of New York, she found that since Uber’s introduction to New York City in 2011, drunk driving accidents have decreased by 25 to 35 percent per month.

However, is this safety net such a good thing?

Jackson Sell
A Marin Academy senior calls their Uber in San Francisco; it’s twelve minutes away!

At 16 years of age, people are just beginning to drive and testing the waters on how to act responsibly. Thanks to Uber, teens no longer need to exercise the same caution that they used to when it comes to getting themselves home safely: a concept that has its faults.

“You know on the practical level, it decreases drunk driving,” said Mercy,  “But does it increase drinking among teenagers because they know they don’t have to worry about driving?”

Caution forces people to think and face a situation wisely. Instead, Uber gives teenagers the freedom to be more careless when consuming drugs and alcohol.

“It just allowed people to drink because they know they can Uber,” said Ghobadian.

Because they know that they always have a ride home with Uber, teens feel as though they can binge drink more, or more often, because they know they won’t have to get behind the wheel. They are no longer restricted by their own car and forced to make smart decisions.

“High schoolers think of Uber as this magical transportation device that will get you home just because we use it so much and we think of it as safe,” said high school senior, Caroline Woodward. “It’s not a perfect recipe.”

Stranger Danger

Uber has made several headlines chronicling their neglect of sexual assaults by their drivers. So maybe getting into a car with a complete stranger maybe isn’t the best idea.

When calling an Uber, the user is provided with a picture of the driver, the driver’s name, a picture of the car, the license plate, and the drivers rating. So when one calls an Uber, they are placing their trust that the company has thoroughly vetted its drivers. But just how thorough are these background checks?

Significantly less thorough than for a taxi driver.

According to Uber’s help page, any conviction of a felony, DUI, sexual assault, or violent crime that is older than seven years old, is ignored in the background check process. Seven years is not that long. And yet, we seem to trust these people.

Woodward says, “You’re taught as a kid not to talk to strangers, but then you go into high school and parents are like ‘get in a strangers car and come home safe child’”. The trust that a parent has for their child to get home safely is now placed in an unknown third party: the Uber driver.

Uber creates a seemingly perfect solution on the outside, but not in practice.

Being a young woman, Ghobadian has felt uncomfortable in a number of situations. Including once when the driver asked her underage friend for her phone number.

“When they start asking you weird questions,” said Ghobadian, “You start to think maybe I shouldn’t have started talking to them.” However, uncomfortable moments for females like Ghobadian are often endured in favor of convenience.

But these interactions with strangers are not all bad.

Uber is just one example of the many new ways by which technology and social media is changing how users make connections with and perceive complete strangers. With the introduction of such a professional, yet casual-feeling driving service that is Uber, the concept of “stranger danger” in the teachings of parents and eyes of teenagers has developed a new meaning.

Gores says, “It’s interesting that with any kind of technology, people are saying that we are disconnecting from random interactions because we’re always on our phones, but at the same time, these kinds of services like Uber allow us to interact with people in a way that we may not have in the past.”

The vulnerable situation in which the driver and passenger are in during an Uber ride is forcing people to have conversations with people who they probably would have never approached if they were just walking down the street.

“Your inherent biases are challenged in that way which is good,” says Gores. Biases based on physical appearance are often what prevent people from engaging in random interactions with strangers and Uber offers people new perspectives on these interactions.

“I mean it’s kind of inevitable to have preconceived notions of people when you just look at them,” said Ghobadian, “But then you have conversations with them, and it’s made me more open to people because I don’t judge them as much and I don’t get as scared.” Uber is diminishing people’s fear of strangers and creating a more intertwined society at the same time.

The Bigger Picture

“It’s not a perfect recipe,” says Woodward.

Uber has had numerous benefits for high schoolers and all users, however, it has several flaws as a company which raise questions for the future of America. Despite its several degrading headlines, Uber’s income and usage have not declined but actually increased.

Plagued with headlines of misogyny, paying off hackers, and poor treatment of their workers, Uber is a company unlike any other. It calls into question people’s morals every single day.

When a consumer buys a product, like makeup, for example, they might want to know that it wasn’t tested on animals before they purchase it. They want to make sure that they are not supporting something that challenges their morals. However, Uber doesn’t seem to follow this trend.

The convenience of Uber is blinding people’s judgment.

“Every day, people are making that decision,” said Mercy, “And so the danger is that no matter how much a company does in the world, whether it’s destroying the environment or mistreating people, people still use that service or that product and don’t think twice about it and that to me is a really scary thing.”

The use of Uber is an example of the addiction to instant gratification that is widely present in young people today. For teenagers who are in need of transportation, they don’t pay attention past the point of when their driver drops them off. “We don’t really value knowing about the brand behind our consumption,” says Woodward.

Whether it is because they are oblivious to the broken culture that surrounds Uber, or because they simply don’t care, the headlines do not seem to be affecting young people’s usage of Uber.

The way that Uber has implanted itself into American society, especially in the young people, demonstrates the nuanced problems in how society conducts itself. By valuing our own time and convenience over the wellbeing of others and allowing instant gratification to dictate our decisions, teenagers are in the process of constructing a new society that preaches efficiency over ethics.

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