BOGOTA — The significance of Uber goes well beyond its specific function, which is to connect willing drivers with people who need to move around in a safe, comfortable and punctual manner. The deeper message of the controversial digital application — and others like it — is in the changing way labor and service markets are organized by providing new means of satisfying the needs of consumers who are better informed than we could have ever imagined in the past.
I won't dwell here on the legal arguments for or against Uber, or the fact that reactive lobbying has won for now in Spain and the Netherlands. The application remains active in more than 50 countries and its turnover in 2014 was over $1 billion. It already has emulators in California, such as Lyft and Sidecar.
What I do want to point out is that the Uber model is effectively applicable to any field. With mobile platforms, people can post information on a range of needs, anywhere and at any time and be connected with others who are able and ready to satisfy those needs.
A typical organizational prototype is this: A small firm identifies a range of home services that households might need at any time (plumbing, electricity, cleaning). The firm then "recruits" thousands of suitable people and offers through the digital platform and makes the information available to customers who can then purchase the services at a price that suits them.
Another website, Airbnb, provides more than half a million rooms and lodgings at varied prices, worldwide. Its model is simple: Homes with unused rooms register with this platform and customers, including here in Colombia, access what they need in a safe and easy manner. As with Uber, hotel associations in various countries want Airbnb blocked.
Services provided online this way include those of programmers, home-visit doctors, accountants, cooks or hairdressers. In the U.S., some firms are even following this model to pay for temporary CEOs to resolve specific problems.
Seven years after the 2008 financial crisis, joblessness is rampant around the world. In Colombia, the youth unemployment rate is double the national average, and if you consider underemployment as well, the situation is downright scary.
It is quite probable that in the coming years, hundreds of thousands of Colombians, especially the young, will offer their talents and services through platforms without seeking the permission of traditional business owners. It is economy dictacted by demand. Those who would wish it away are simply being shortsighted.