Uber’s Psychological Tricks

The New York Times has a fascinating look into all the psychological tricks Uber (and Lyft) uses to get drivers to to keep driving:

Uber even published a study last year, using its vast pile of data on drivers’ rides and hours, finding that a “substantial, although not most, fraction of partners” practice an extreme form of income targeting when they start on the platform, though they abandon it as they gain more experience. Strict income targeting is highly inefficient because it leads drivers to work long hours on days when business is slow and their hourly take is low, and to knock off early on days when business is brisk.

The beauty of the messages that Uber sent Mr. Streeter and his fellow drivers is that the drivers need not have even had a specific income goal in mind in order for the messages to work. Some of the most addictive games ever made, like the 1980s and ’90s hit Tetris, rely on a feeling of progress toward a goal that is always just beyond the player’s grasp. As the psychologist Adam Alter writes in his book “Irresistible,” video game designers even have a name for this mental state: the “ludic loop.”

Uber, for its part, appears to be aware of the ludic loop. In its messages to drivers, it included a graphic of an engine gauge with a needle that came tantalizingly close to, but was still short of, a dollar sign.

And the ludic loop is far from the only video game feature that Uber has adapted as a way of keeping drivers on the road.

If taken in isolation, this article isn’t all that crazy, but it’s part of a bigger picture revealing a company whose executives visit karaoke-escort bars in Korea, evades law enforcement with their technology, has a hostile, sexist work environment filed with sexual harassment cases, and give the actual drivers rather shitty compensation considering they’re valued at over 60 billion dollars.

The ultimate goal of a corporation is 100% efficiency and after reading this piece, it’s clear humans are but a stopgap solution until robots start driving (and doing everything else).

Trivially Easy

Android Wear has made it trivially easy for fashion companies to ‘make’ tech products:

March has been a particularly fecund time for new Android Wear watch announcements, though unlike previous years, the brands behind these devices are almost all from the fashion and luxury spheres of business. Tag Heuer, Montblanc, Hugo Boss, Tommy Hilfiger, Diesel, Emporio Armani, Michael Kors, and Movado are just some of the well known names announcing Wear 2.0 smartwatches. This wave of new products is symptomatic of a broader trend in the tech industry: one where a high degree of component and software integration has made it almost trivial to launch a new tech product, whether or not you’re actually a tech company.

I wonder if this ‘trivial’ aspect of wearable tech is going to help move the needle for Android Wear sales. At the end of last year Apple was still leading in the contracting smartwatch market.

The crux of the problem with these internally identical Android Wear watches is that tech consumers demand substantive differences between cheap and expensive gadgets. How does Montblanc justify charging three times as much as LG for a watch that is functionally the same as LG’s? When Tag Heuer or any other famed watchmaker puts four-figure prices on its mechanical watches, there’s an implied promise that they’ll have an unmatched quality of workmanship and precision. But when those same companies outsource the brains to Google and the brawn to Qualcomm, what’s left for them to differentiate themselves with?

This doesn’t make any sense. The Apple Watch Series 2 is functionally identical across all price points (the Series 1 isn’t water resistance and doesn’t have GPS).

The real question is: can Google make a smartwatch interface that feels just as premium as the shell and straps around it?

It took years for Android for phones/tablets to be in the same league as iOS in terms of a seamless software experience that didn’t jitter and adhered to a set interface guidelines. I wonder if it will be the same for Android Wear.

There’s not an app for everything

The Women’s March proves that 21st century protest is still about bodies, not tweets:

Headed to DC on Friday, I was asked by my editor to pay attention to the ways that people were communicating and dealing with logistical issues on the spot. Would the Women’s March app be used to ping people with changes in plan, or would the massive crowds inspire an official recommendation of using peer-to-peer communications like FireChat? Would organizers encourage participants to use encrypted messaging services to protect themselves? Would there be clashes with police or anti-protest groups that warranted live video streams? In reality the only mass communication I witnessed was organizers asking participants to text a no-reply number to obtain an official tally for the march — seemingly unaware that 500,000 people sending a text in synchronization in a small space is probably impossible, and that many people had been warned not to help create records of their location and ID on protest day. For all the reasoned and confident organization the Women’s March team did before the event, they were unprepared to direct the crowd that eventually materialized before them on Saturday morning, and they didn’t use any of the tools we imagined.

One of the reasons people didn’t use their mobile devices was because the Internet tubes got clogged:

At one point, a rally speaker acknowledged that the crowd “may have seen” a news article saying the march was no longer happening because there were too many people. But there was no way to get Twitter to load in the thick of things, so most of us had not. Apps like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram were useful only on the outskirts of the protest and afterwards, to digest dispatches that had been sent whenever a signal could be ferreted out.

To get things done in life sometimes you have to put down your iPhone and get your hands dirty. Talk to people face-to-face, not through a text message with emoji characters.

Millenials be loving vinyl.

The Economist’s Prospero blog explains it’s millenials, not baby boomers, who are driving the boom in vinyl sales:

Many consider nostalgia the driving force behind this uptick. Turntables are cheap and easy to get hold of (a Crosley costs less than $100 on Amazon) and so furnish baby boomers with a good excuse to dust off what remains of their collection, and expand it further. But data show that this isn’t a sufficient explanation: nearly 50% of vinyl customers are 35 or younger, according to ICM. Indeed, it is 25-35 year-olds who are the most voracious demographic, taking home 33% (by comparison, 45-54 year-olds are responsible for only 18% of sales). Millennials might like to carry their favourite songs around with them and discover new artists via streaming apps, but they also want to collect that music in album form.

The key word to understand when it comes to records is experience.

We’re physical animals and we enjoy physical activities, particularly in a world getting more and more digital and virtual.

“Seeing comes before words.”*

John Berger, Provocative Art Critic, Dies at 90:

John Berger, the British critic, novelist and screenwriter whose groundbreaking 1972 television series and book, “Ways of Seeing,” declared war on traditional ways of thinking about art and influenced a generation of artists and teachers, died on Monday at his home in the Paris suburb of Antony. He was 90.

Ways of Seeing should be in every artist and designer’s library (*the title of this post is the first sentence from the book).

I still have the copy I bought in college on my book shelf.

Empathy Vacuum

Om Malik thinks Silicon Valley Has an Empathy Vacuum:

Otto, a Bay Area startup that was recently acquired by Uber, wants to automate trucking—and recently wrapped up a hundred-and-twenty-mile driverless delivery of fifty thousand cans of beer between Fort Collins and Colorado Springs. From a technological standpoint it was a jaw-dropping achievement, accompanied by predictions of improved highway safety. From the point of view of a truck driver with a mortgage and a kid in college, it was a devastating “oh, shit” moment. That one technical breakthrough puts nearly two million long-haul trucking jobs at risk. Truck driving is one of the few decent-paying jobs that doesn’t require a college diploma. Eliminating the need for truck drivers doesn’t just affect those millions of drivers; it has a ripple effect on ancillary services like gas stations, motels, and retail outlets; an entire economic ecosystem could break down.

Whenever you abstract things from real, physical life, they become less real to you.

‘Technological innovation’ seems to supersede ‘societal impact’ in Silly Valley.

A Wonderful Engine Note

Can electric sports cars be sporty without any engine noise?

Not only does a noisy engine give a visceral thrill, knowing that there are thousands of tiny explosions happening to keep you going, but it just sounds awesome. It would be a shame to lose it, and carmakers know it. Bloomberg says Porsche has been looking at artificially inserting noise into the cabin, perhaps via the stereo like some other manufacturers have done, or amplifying the high-pitched hum of the electric motor.

One side of me is appalled by the idea of a car with fake engine noises. The other side of me sees this as a merging of video games and real life.

If the simulation is indistinguishable from reality, does it matter?

Another question: if simulated engine noises become the new normal, will car companies copyright engine sounds?

Where Did All the Good Jobs Go?

Seth Godin: The computer, the network and the economy:

When a pre-employed person says, “I don’t know how to code and I’m not interested in selling,” we need to pause for a moment and think about what we built school for. When he continues, “I don’t really have anything interesting to say, and I’m not committed to making a particular change in the world, but I’m pretty good at following instructions,” we’re on the edge of a seismic shift in our culture. And not a positive one.

No, the good jobs aren’t coming back. But yes, there’s a whole host of a new kind of good job, one that feels fundamentally different from the old days. It doesn’t look like a job used to look, but it’s the chance of lifetime if we can shift gears fast enough.

You don’t have to like this shift, but ignoring it, yelling about it, cutting ourselves off from it is a recipe for a downward spiral. It’s an opportunity if we let it be one.

The mutants will survive.

Ways to Remove “Um” From Your Speech

The Subreddit ‘LifeProTips’ has a great thread on ways to remove “um,” and words like it from your conversational vocabulary:

Replace your “ums” with spaces. You begin your thought with something as simple as “I’m…” space space space… then just finish your thought as it comes to you: “not really in the mood for spaghetti tonight.”

Eventually, the spaces will get shorter. “Um” and “uh” and “er” are crutches. Keep using them, and you’ll always need them.

I like mrwizard420’s response to this:

This is… absolutely correct. If you were to look at… certain famous people like… President Obama, you… would see this technique… used quite often.

(Bonus points if you read this in… the Obamavoice.)

Adding spacings and pauses in your speech is the most common piece of advice in this threaad.

As someone who’s continually trying to get better at talking on his podcast, this thread handy.

The Unbearable Heaviness of iTunes

Vlad Savov at The Verge asks how many Apple engineers does it take to fix iTunes?:

In the ranking of unpleasant life experiences, using Apple’s iTunes lies somewhere between filing your taxes and having your wisdom teeth pulled out. It’s not good even at the best of times, but two weeks ago it was downright harmful to one James Pinkstone of Atlanta, who found 122GB of his own musical creations had been deleted by Apple’s renegade software. The response from Cupertino has been swift and decisive, with two engineers being sent out this weekend to diagnose the cause of Pinkstone’s agony and try to fix it.

Excellent fucking question!

The problem with iTunes is that iTunes does waaaaaay too many things now. It manages not just your tunes, but your movies, podcasts, apps, and, if you like, your iPhone/iPad syncing (I rarely use iTunes to sync my iPhone).

Originally, iTunes handled your music, and then syncing your music to your iPod. It’s actually doing the same thing now, only with many more different media types for multiple devices.

Something clearly has to change, whether it’s rebuilding iTunes from the ground up, like they did when they scrapped iPhoto for the new Photos app or breaking iTunes up into discreet applications for different tasks/media types.