How America’s digital capitalists are taking us all for a ride

John Naughton writes: One useful side-effect of the revelations that a senior executive of the cyber-minicab outfit Uber was caught musing about the attractions of hiring private investigators to dig up dirt on journalists who are critical of the company is that it has lifted the veil on what we might call digital capitalism.

Uber, you may recall, is a lavishly-funded San Francisco startup whose mission is to disrupt taxi services in cities worldwide. It has already sparked protests and demonstrations in its targeted cities, including London, and begun to attract the attention of regulators and municipalities everywhere.

Although Uber’s activities have attracted a good deal of media attention, much of it has been strangely uncritical, admiring, even. It has been portrayed as a standard bearer for Clayton Christensen’s cliched idea of “disruptive innovation”. Existing taxi businesses and franchises are seen as lazy, cosy, sometimes corrupt municipal monopolies that gouge customers (many of whom are, of course, journalists).

Uber, in contrast, is cool, modern (it works via a smartphone app, so it must be cool), a worthy surfer on the wave of creative destruction that is capitalism’s way of renewing itself. [Continue reading…]

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