Street sign: Uber without a smartphone

Street sign: Uber without a smartphone

If you follow my work, you might know that I’m something of a neo-luddite. Probably the single thing that interests me most about the Hasidic community is watching them adapt to life in NYC in the 2020s, without adopting the myriad of technologies that feel almost unavoidable. Many of the things I document are with an eye to understanding how Hasidim opt out of technology, and it’s sociological, economic and cultural implications. So this is how I’ve come to have a bit of a collection here — on kosher phones, kosher cameras, kosher phone vending machines, and on and on.

Kosher tech is a unique economic market that is able to exist because the community prioritizes tech-censorship over expediency. Ordering an Uber is easier than hunting down numbers for taxi companies, getting a car and waiting for it to arrive without knowing if the driver is a minute away or twenty. But Uber hasn’t been able to push out the local taxi industry because it requires a smartphone, and smartphones are hardly seen in Williamsburg.

But there is no absence of ingenuity and entrepreneurs looking to make markets out of the unusual situation in Hasidic Williamsburg. Hence, something like this crops up. A solution: have your cake and eat it too! I mean, have an Uber and a kosher flip phone too.

The announcement reads:

Need an UBER? Now you can order one by TEXT. No smartphone or app required.


Of course, if this business model will be successful it would pose a threat to the existing taxi market. Just as in the wider world, every new technology disrupts an industry. The entrepreneurs behind these products are certainly a kind of disruptor. The difference for Hasidim is that even if this poses a serious competition for a local economic sector, the replacement is still a local industry. And if this works out, similar businesses models are sure to follow.

In other words, this community’s special needs allows for a local economic market to exist where it would be pushed out by the big competitors others. Be it taxis or Uber-intermediaries, a need for local operations remains.


Out of curiosity, I texted the phone number. Here is the automated reply chain. As you can see, getting an Uber this way would be quite a pain and you’d have to be really dedicated to your smartphone abstinence to deal with it. You first need an account with them and a chargeable debit card, and then, every time you want a ride you need to text them where you are and want to go, they reply with trip options and prices (perhaps manually? I wonder if this is automated) and then you choose if you want the trips they offer. It’s not an easy work-around.


Meanwhile, here’s another example of this type of “adaptor” tech. Remail also promises to offer a workaround; this one is for “emails without internet.” This company intercepts emails and forwards them to a phone line in a voice message.


Related:

Internet restrictions

This smartphone war is directed especially at women

Whassup on Whatsapp?

Podcast on the global economy versus Hasidic economy

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