What Uber and Lyft are really about … the ‘Nomad Movement’

Last week I was reading a piece by Joe Mathews in Zocalo, a Los Angeles publication that focuses on culture, ideas and local politics. The title was: “Yes, Airbnb has a dark side.” The piece was about the sharing economy and it’s relationship with existing rules and regulation. Considering the title Joe bestowed upon his prose, I expected an expose’ on the horrors of letting someone stay in your house or of jumping into a stranger’s car for a ride. This was not the case though. There were no horror stories, unless you consider the disruption of the local government regulatory system one.

Of which I don’t.

                               Alexandria's Lyft
Alexandria’s Lyft

First I want to talk about the term ‘sharing economy.’ I’ve had people take offense to my use of that term to describe these app driven upstarts like Uber, Lyft and Airbnb. So I stand corrected. While Airbnb could be considered truly sharing, the ride sharing services really aren’t. They’re a replacement (In my opinion, a better one nonetheless.) for cab companies and  their relatives – black car services, etc. I prefer to call this app driven movement the ‘nomad economy,’ or better yet the ‘Nomad Movement.’

I like to look at this movement from the perspective of the providers of the services; the drivers, the pet sitters, etc. This is in contrast to looking at it from the owners’ or media’s view. They are going to label it however they feel will catch on the best. And all the power to them. It’s branding. Coke and Pepsi do it. Why can’t Lyft and Uber. But from the drivers perspective, it’s something else to a lot of them.

As Joe mentioned in his piece, many involved in the industry view it in a humanity-saving way: “reversing economic inequality, stopping ecological destruction, countering the consumptive and materialistic tendencies of First World societies, enhancing worker rights, mitigating the effects of globalization, empowering the poor, curing cancer and other diseases, and reimagining our politics in more participatory ways.” That may be. But those descriptions feel very ’60s to me, very counter-culture. While these goals may be admirable, and for some primary … this isn’t the ’60s. Most young people or Millennials think this way just because they think that the way you’re supposed to think. It’s not a statement as much as it is a way of ‘being,’ a way of living.

Alexandria and Flash
Alexandria and Flash

My daughter, Alexandria, is neck-deep in the ‘Nomad Movement’ in Los Angeles. She drives and mentors for Lyft. She boards dogs short-term at her house and resurrects Mac computers and iPhones for her friends and their friends. She is a professional nomad. Her attention is focused on what will produce the most results. She lives by ‘resource maximization’ and her various skills and time are the resources. But this professional nomad existence is not an end, it’s a means to an end. The end is Alex’s and her partner, Christina’s, reptile breeding company, StarDust Scales. StarDust Scales breeds rare morphs of Brazilian Rainbow Boas, Satanic Leaf Tailed Geckos and other scaly creatures. Her various nomad pursuits, most specifically Lyft, allow her the time and money to fulfill her entrepreneurial dreams.

And that’s a good thing!

It’s not what older generations would call job security. It’s not your standard corporate career path. But does that path even exist anymore? And when was the last time it actually did – a generation ago, maybe two. Assuming it is a viable option (big assumption) … why should it be the preferred one?

Those who paved this so-called path sure as hell haven’t done a very good job keeping up the maintenance. And it doesn’t matter what end of the political spectrum you’re on, the potholes haven’t been fixed in decades. Government has been AWOL for years. And corporations demand conformity to rules and procedures long archaic years ago (and hardly applicable now). What might have worked for their parents grandparents has been thrust upon younger generations dramatized by stories of the “good old days,” that weren’t really very good in the first place. Maybe it’s like Tyler the Creator said in a recent interview with Larry King: “The suits are scared.” They’re scared of something. Maybe it’s just change.

Fortunately my daughter didn’t go down that path. She’s making her own. It’s not easy. But it’s fun and it’s stimulating for her. Work isn’t work for the sake of work. It’s a journey down a path to goals she’s created, not one of the suits. I know. I see it. I visit it her twice a year for a month at a time. I sit on the couch next to Blake or Brody or Sydney, their cattle dogs – constructing my own path.

Joe from Zocalo is concerned. He’s concerned for his young kids. And that’s to be expected. He started out his piece referring to them and referred to them again at the end. He believes this new ‘Nomad Movement’ will cause upheaval that government (local, state and federal) won’t be able to keep up with. That seems to scare him for the future of his children.

His view may be warranted. I view it as ‘glass half empty, yet with a hint of optimism.’ Fixing the status quo, tweaking it to try to make it better. That’s seems to be Joe’s path. But that’s not mine. And it’s not Alex’s, nor many of her friends I had the pleasure of meeting. The ‘Nomad Movement’ is the younger generation’s way of dealing with all the craziness and the crumbling of the once vaunted traditional institutions built years gone by for generations mostly long gone also. The ‘Nomad Movement’ is their tool for survival and more than that … their tool to realize their American Dream. This is a dream where they can create their own path; potholes, washouts and all. But it’s still their own. To discount it or look at from how it affects regulation and government and the rest of messed up economic world given to them to negotiate, is hardly empathic to those having to clean up the mess.

                 Sydney
Sydney

A memo to the elders in this world: Would it be so damn hard to get out of your children’s way? They’re not asking you for much … but just get out of the way. If you can’t see that: I’m sure I can make some room on the couch next time I’m in Los Angeles.

Plus, Sydney’s always up for a good belly scratch.

Hail the new American Dream!

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Come and join me on Twitter at @clayforsberg or on Google+.

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