Commons Network is co-organizing the Cities for Change conference, which is going on as we speak and last until 30 May. ‘Digital Courage’, one of the tracks of Cities for Change, is an exploration of the influence of digital infrastructure and the platform economy on the city. What is the damage and how can it be different? Sanne Stevens of the London School of Economics curates an online expo where she describes the industry, its effects and presents ideas for change.
Datafication, algorithms and AI are shaping how we live, reside, and work – and profoundly affecting power relations in the city. The great promise of data leads to surveillance and ‘collection frenzy’, tech companies are incredibly powerful and dominate more and more services, algorithms are full of unprecedented consequences. Covid-19 has pushed digital transformation into an unprecedented acceleration and made the market even more powerful.
Over the past few months, we’ve been looking for visionary projects that are digitally courageous and brave. Brave because they are trying to break the dominance of big tech. Brave because they are not afraid to tip the balance of power, cause friction and break thought patterns. And brave because they are replacing the hyper-individual user with a collective solidarity.
In this expo we go from what is now, to how things could be different. Inspiration for a different tech future, where digitization is not the seemingly moving train we’re on, but a human-made and controlled process we can influence.
Part 1: Uber Eats, the desastrous consequences of the platform economy and what we can do differently
Sanne Stevens: “I remember when I first heard the name “Uber” come up, a long time ago. I thought it was a strange name and didn’t have particularly good associations with it. What kind of company chooses a name like that – what kind of people are they? The name, now so ingrained that we hardly give it a second thought, turned out to be a sign of the times and an all too appropriate choice for the greed that the slick taxi app keeps displaying.
The scandals piled up in recent years. The company’s meal delivery arm doesn’t appear to be much better – under the guise of entrepreneurial innovation, whatever stands in the way of profit may be destroyed without scruple. The arrogant tech-entrepreneurs shrug about damage, rules apply to the others.
From the beginning, Uber has scandalized and ignored the governance of many cities, who barely knew what hit them. In doing so, it has become the epitome of the Silicon Valley predatory model. But what do we notice of it here, in the city? Part 1 of the online exhibition dealt with these issues. Part 2 will deal with the digitalization of education and its consequences.”