The other day, a commentator on NPR referred to current Twitter followers as the old guard. As he said this, I thought, What’s the new guard, then? Where does that leave those of us who barely twit? Sitting on a branch, wireless-less, with bird laryngitis, I guess. The truth; it’s impossible to keep up with the hyperactive mutations of social media. The age-old tenet that the young ‘uns will abandon a format as soon as their parents start to appreciate and use it (the aging face of Facebook is a case in point) doesn’t adequately explain how and why technology morphs so rapidly.
I’m only fifty-five, so I don’t think my cadre has lain down in the dust to breathe the last improbable gasps of a dead civilization just yet. However, even in the face of this mind-boggling web of newness, I don’t mind the idea of a new guard.
In searching for my own explanation of the new guard, I thought of this scene from the 1968 version of Planet of the Apes. Astronaut George Taylor, (played by Charleton Heston), has landed on a planet he does not recognize. While riding a horse down a beach with a scantily clad woman, he rides up on a beheaded Lady Liberty, discarded on the beach. Tradition became meaningless upon the realization that the world he had known was now gone. Taylor then decries the loss of his old traditions and boundaries, in a fit of histrionics worthy of the old guard. [Parenthetically, Charleton Heston won an Oscar for his performance in Ben-Hur. Go figure.]
The new generation of media-saavy twenty and thirty-somethings have a different take on our rules, our traditions, what we’ve preserved, what we’ve ruined. Standing on the beach that is the actual, unvirtual world, boundaries may be viewed not as something to observe, but as something to be manipulated, a matrix of interdimensional possibilities. I don’t think this is such a bad thing, having this innate belief in the elasticity of the world.
Take Uber, the ride sharing service that’s swept through America’s major cities. Uber was an idea that grew out of this elasticized worldview. Here’s how it happened: Garrett Camp and Travis Kalanick sat around after a conference thinking of new ventures. Kalanick and Camp, neither of whom had reached forty, had each started and sold their first tech companies and were ready for a new challenge One of their conversations centered on the difficulty getting a taxi in San Francisco. Uber was born out of this conversation.
Now, when I travel to a big city, I can use an app on my phone to summon a driver and know exactly where the driver is in his or her journey to pick me up. The Uber app is the hub around which Uber revolves, which seems like a paradigm shift. Most companies develop a business plan and then throw an app in parenthetically. Kalanick and Camp speak new guard fluently, and understand that business is embedded into new technology,not the other way around.
Uber and similar services such as Lyft have faced their share of adversity. Both companies have been sued by drivers over the designation that they are contractors rather than employees. In addition, Uber has been attacked by taxi companies and city regulators who would like to see them out of business. Realistically, the taxi companies and city planners would be better served to find a way to work with ride-sharing services. It’s kind of like putting one of those folding chairs back into the little sack it came in. Be honest. You know you threw that sack away after the second time you used the chair. Uber and services like it are not going back into the bag. It would be, like sacking the chair, giving birth backwards.
When you use Uber, a person picks you up in his or her own car, and takes you where you want to go. Because the financial end is all on an app, no money changes hands unless the rider decides to tip the driver in cash. It feels like riding with a friend. And the friend is usually from the new guard, just finished college, or attending grad school, or driving to make a little money before the baby comes. It’s quick, easy to use, and it’s cheaper than calling a yellow taxi. Also, since the driver uses a personally owned vehicle, the cars are much cleaner than a typical taxi.
When we recently used Uber in Oakland, California, we encountered a lovely driver with curls that stood at attention all over her head. She told us about getting the Holy Spirit in Waco Texas, the slight shame she felt when Baylor University released her for violating the drinking policy (those Baptists are serious, man), how much she loved Hawaii, and how we didn’t owe her a tip. No, she insisted, the pleasure was all hers. At one time, we were all as starchless and free as this young Uber driver. She’s only one example of the lovely human beings we’ve encountered in our Uber travels.
Change, when it comes, always faces opposition. But I believe that each new guard, when it comes along, deserves a chance to create new paradigms, and replace traditions with ideas that work better for the current day. This emergent energy is what makes the world such an interesting place. Those of us in the old guard should sit in the back and enjoy the view. Relax. The Statue of Liberty’s still there in the harbor where it’s always been. But thanks to the new guard, we don’t have to go to New York to visit. We simply download the app.