Disclosure: I have self-published an e-book on Kindle. The second half of this blog post is not intended to disparage Amazon.com Inc. or other large retailers. Please read it carefully and consider how we can support modern companies — and their workers — without damaging older, well-established businesses.
Unless you’re isolating yourself from the outside world, you’ve probably heard something about Uber’s precarious relationship with its drivers. The January/February 2016 issue of Mother Jones has an article about the legal effort to protect motorists whom the company treats as contractors. Click the link below to read about legal action against Uber and similar companies.
Personally, I’m grateful to live in a section of San Francisco with easy access to surface and subway lines. Often, I can walk, but when it’s necessary to get into a vehicle the vehicle is usually run by a city agency. I refrain from eating, littering and peeing in those vehicles, which I like to think adds a touch of class to public transit. I use my pre-loaded Clipper Card to pay fare, and then trust the system will be running well. Okay, that last part is iffy.
I can go months at a time without getting into any car, and on the rare occasions when that isn’t possible I call Yellow Cab. By the way, last month Yellow Cab Co-Op of San Francisco announced it was close to filing for bankruptcy. The company is losing money because its passengers are now using the Uber app instead of dialing the easy-to-remember S.F. Yellow Cab dispatch number, 415-333-3333.
In fairness, the bottom line for someone in a hurry to get to work or the airport is speed. I know one person who has given up on taxis because Uber has been more efficient for him. He still uses BART to get to work, but swears by Uber for early morning trips to the airport when BART isn’t running.
We must choose our battles carefully. I do some shopping at chain stores, but often go out of my way to shop at independents. Cliff’s Variety and Buffalo Whole Food & Grain Company — both on Castro — are favorites. Some of that merchandise is cheaper at Target or Whole Foods, but the sense of community we have as consumers is pretty hollow when we give our money to big companies with headquarters hundreds or thousands of miles away. When we shop at locally owned independents we support a real community.
(Another In Fairness Note: When a chain retailer downsizes or closes, even more people who live near you lose their jobs as when a small store gets elbowed out. We should take that into consideration when we complain about “big business.” The issue is never as simple as it looks.)
The progress our society has made with electronics has pluses and minuses. One disadvantage is we have become too dependent on downloaded media. Print media and music which we used to buy in stores is now loaded onto devices, and we’ve taken it so far we’ve lost many newsstands, bookshops and CD stores. Chain retailers haven’t withstood it much better than the indies, either. If consumers had thought more carefully and recognized electronic media as something to add to their print and CD collections (rather than as a substitute), brick-and-mortar business might have had a chance to adjust to the new market. As it stands, even Barnes and Noble, which introduced a device to compete with Kindle, is in danger of shutting down.
Don’t get me started on the way the local economy is trashed by online shopping, either. God knows, I’ve done my share of shopping on the internet (especially for heavy items), and as a certified hypocrite I try to justify it by saying it keeps the post office open. That defense doesn’t hold up when UPS delivers the package, which is often.
We have a consumer economy, fueled by the conspicuous consumption mentality. The way adults behave with their smartphones reminds me of the social environment in high school. In high school, you were judged by the neat stuff you bought, and the way you flaunted it. It was a shallow community, and the kids who got pulled into it behaved as if they were in a cult. I was in high school from 1974 to 1977, and wondered why my failure to smoke cigarettes or wear a puka shell necklace made me an outcast. On Christmas in 1975, I received two mood rings. I wore one for awhile, and got compliments from classmates I didn’t respect. Somehow, I didn’t find that gratifying, and the other kids agreed I didn’t wear the mood ring as stylishly as they did. It was a lose-lose thing.
If you’re hell-bent on maxing out your credit card, at least do it in a balanced way. You don’t have to do everything the other kids are doing.