The Nuclear Winter of Ride Sharing
Let us imagine a dystopia: a bleak and faded world filled with despair and hopelessness, a world where men strain to remember the happy thrum of life where now they can only hear wailing and gnashing of teeth – in other words, a world where every car is an Uber. What will have been lost in the cataclysmic explosion of the U-bomb, that towering mushroom cloud of boredom and shareholder value that annihilated all that was creative and wonderful about cars? What will perish in this new and more devastating ride-share winter?
The aura. This idea that art prior to the age of its mechanical reproducibility had a palpable glow of presence and authenticity is one of the central contentions of Walter Benjamin’s essay by the same name. Although it might initially seem not to apply to the automobile, if we replace ‘art’ with ‘car’ and ‘mechanical reproducibility’ with ‘ride sharing,’ an eerily possible vision of the future emerges.
“That which withers in the age of [ride sharing] is the aura of the [car].” The aura of the car is inextricably tied to our possessing it – the transference of the car’s properties (speed, aggression, cuteness, elegance) to that of the owner. Destroy the link of ownership, and to paraphrase Benjamin: “in the case of the [car as] object, a most sensitive nucleus –namely, its authenticity –is interfered with.” The aura is delicate and – despite its very public function of display – intensely private. In the same way that an oyster shell has a tough exterior but leaves its inhabitant vulnerable to the extreme once opened: “To pry an object from its shell, to destroy its aura.”
The manufacturers of automobiles strive to sell us an object of use, but we buy them because of the aura. And through all the ups and downs of the last few decades, this aura has survived, emanating from within the safe shell of the driver’s ego. As it turns out, when ride-sharing strips that ego away, the aura of the car withers.