A Friday Chat About Art Imitating Life

The Handmaid’s Tale, The Circle, and Uber’s newest update.

The Circle

NICOLE: Happy Friday! Have you been watching The Handmaid’s Tale?

MEGAN: Happy Friday to you! I haven’t been able to watch it yet because of working nights, but I’m VERY excited to carve out an entire weekend and lose myself in what will likely be depressing but also very good television. Are you? How is it??

NICOLE: I am waiting until all the episodes are up so I can watch it on a Hulu free trial week! I have heard so many good things, though. Also so many “it’s way too relevant now” things.

MEGAN: Oh, wait, I just realized that it’s being released one episode per week and not in one big chunk, because that’s how Hulu does things. I’ve heard a lot of good things, but I’m kind of embargoing myself from the reviews and such. Ideally, I will finish reading the book before I start the show, because if I don’t finish the book and just watch the show, I’m not going to read the book and then that’s bad. From what I gather, it is relatively relevant, so, uh, I guess it’s nice to have art imitating life.

NICOLE: In other “art imitating life” news, The Circle opens today. That’s the movie based on the Dave Eggers book about what will happen when Facebook — sorry, “The Circle” — finally controls and publicizes all of our daily actions.

MEGAN: Oh YES, I’m excited to see that! I remember being riveted by the book, which is unusual for me and any Dave Eggers book in general, so I’m excited to see the movie. And I’m excited to see a glimpse into our terrible future when we are all at the thrall of a social network with ratings and likes and blasts about whether or not we ate pizza or whatever.

NICOLE: And yet that future could be just one app update away:

Uber Made It Easy For Riders To See Their Ratings

MEGAN: Christ, this thing. It’s that Black Mirror episode and that Gary Shteyngart book Super Sad True Love Story but happening now, in real life! I really hate the idea that allowing users to see their ratings will maybe make them be less shitty to the people that are literally driving them around as if they were a C-list Bravolebrity.

NICOLE: I feel like it could go the opposite way, though. If you know your Uber drivers don’t like you, won’t you be motivated to be worse to them? Or to give them lower ratings out of spite or vengeance?

MEGAN: Yeah, that’s very true too, but I’d think that everyone is so desperate to be liked in general that if you know that your Uber driver hates you, you’re going to do your best to amend that.

NICOLE: It’s like we’re desperate to be liked, but we’re also desperate to tear other people down. Twitter right now is one big pile of You’re Bad And You Should Feel Bad. Why shouldn’t Uber ratings go in that direction?

MEGAN: Yeah, Twitter is rapidly turning into some sort of competition about who can make X group of people or one person or one industry feel bad about something and then enumerating the reasons they are bad, while using that in an attempt to bolster their own brand as some sort of harbinger of good will or at least #truth. Uber ratings could very well go in that direction too — it’s sort of human nature, I guess?

NICOLE: The difference is that Uber ratings still take place in a sort of private atmosphere; yes, you can see your driver’s rating, and your driver can see yours, but we aren’t publicizing every individual rating to the entire world and enumerating why the driver (or the passenger) talked too much or talked to little or whatever. So there’s not exactly the incentive yet to publicly shame. Which might be the one thing that keeps this from veering off a cliff, to use a car metaphor.

MEGAN: I can imagine a future in which we are publicizing these ratings, though, for some reason or another. Like, maybe one day there’ll be a scoreboard in the app that lets you see other people’s ratings, like Venmo’s feed that shows which friends of yours had beer or paid rent or whatever *lipstick emoji* *dancing girl emoji* *clown emoji* denotes (Sephora?) Like, something about seeing EVERYONE’s ratings gamifies the whole process, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned, people love games.

NICOLE: I did not sign up for Uber with the intent to play a MMORPG. I haven’t ridden an Uber in forever, though, so maybe Lyft won’t immediately copy their idea and I’ll never know how much my drivers do or don’t like me.

MEGAN: When I was using Uber, I honestly rated every single driver 5 stars because they always got me to where I needed to be on time, my life never felt threatened, and sometimes there was gum and/or water in the car. Any one of those factors is a 5 star experience in my book.

NICOLE: Yep. I view it as pass/fail, and you get 5 stars unless you fail, which only happened once because the Uber got into an accident. It probably wasn’t even the driver’s fault, two cars merged onto a yellow road, etc. etc. etc. but the driver ended the ride because there had been an accident (NOBODY WAS HURT), and I was literally 20 feet from where I started, and it was like “rate the ride” and I was “um…………… one star?”

And then Lyft immediately contacted me to ask why I had given such a low rating.

MEGAN: Oh my god! That is terrible. Also….yeah. Fair enough. I’ve only given a shitty rating once, and it’s because a Lyft driver couldn’t find me despite my numerous attempts to contact him via the number he called me at, then charged me for the ride and was nowhere to be found. I think I took a cab and got my money back and then kind of stopped using ridesharing. There’s a black car service down the block from my house and honestly, that’s fine.

NICOLE: So while we were chatting about Uber and Lyft I found this article from The New York Review of Books where Margaret Atwood reviews The Circle, and I think we should all go read it because the world is changing in exactly this way and also because Margaret Atwood is very smart and I love her writing.

When Privacy Is Theft

Hang on to your privacy, y’all. Don’t let the apps give it away.

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