Sharing a Mirage Economy

It's pouring rain out during the morning rush hour and you're standing on a corner with your aging mother with no taxis in sight. So you press the Ubu icon on your new $600 iPhone and, magically, a shiny black car with a polite driver pulls up to the curb within the promised five minutes. It seems too good to be true. You settle into the plush back seat, blissful not to be one of the wet, haggard pedestrians waiting on the sidewalk for a bus. At last, you think, ten quiet minutes in your busy morning schedule to get things done.
"So how are you?" Your mother asks.
"Just a sec," you say as pleasantly as possible.
You close out of the video advertisement (for a new NetFix Series about a transgender prison warden who finds God and begins to secretly release the inmates one by one), which had distracted you from the seventy-five word article about climate change you had diligently bookmarked when you really had been on your way to the Alazyone site to return some unwanted Christmas presents while also scanning for new emails and tweets.
"What was that book you said you wanted?" You ask your mother.
"I haven't read a book in years."
"I'm sorry."
"You know I can hardly see anymore!" She adds, indignantly. "It must have been Dad."
"He's dead!"
"No, no, I meant to say Dan, my son. He wants Hunter Games Six or Seven and I got him Hunter Games Three."
"What's that?"
"It's a book. And a movie. Or a video game. It's everything. I'm going to order it from Alazyone right now!"
"On your phone?"
"Yes, of course, mother, get with it!"
"Why don't you just walk to the book store?"
"Because then I wouldn't have time to take you to the doctor," you say triumphantly.
"Oh," she says unhappy to admit that Alazyone might have done her a favor.
"You know," she adds, "I almost tripped and fell in the lobby this morning there were so many packages on the floor."
"Haven't you noticed? Every day they're piled up. Talk about waste! All that cardboard and the foam pellet things and the plastic bags. Not to mention the airplanes and the trucks and all that fuel. Just think if everyone was like you and ordered every little thing on the internet, individually wrapped, what if I wanted to order a can of tomato soup..."
"They can get that for you too. And deliver it by drone."
"They can?! Oh my God, sounds like a recipe for aerial mayhem."
"It's called convenience, Mom."
"I don't mean to interrupt, but your mother may be right," says the driver. Evidently, he is allowed to talk. In fact, this being a sharing-gig economy thing, you're both supposed to be super friendly. At the moment, though, it's annoying. You were just about to complete your Alazyone order but then it asked you if wanted to become a premium member and enjoy free-shipping and when you said yes it informed you its premium service no longer accepted Pay Pal because they had developed their own pay service and would you please update your payment type, complete the survey questions and pick a new password!
"Thank you," your mother says to the driver.
"If you are really interested in climate change," the driver continues, "You should know that the freight and travel industries have a bigger carbon footprint than Germany and the U.K. combined. In other words, when you consider what UPS and FED EX spew into the atmosphere bringing you your packages, you might consider walking or taking public transportation to a store to buy something next time. "
"You see!" your mother says.
"How do you know that?" you ask a bit peeved now.
"I have a graduate degree in environmental economy from MIT."
"No, I meant how did you know I had just been reading about climate change?"
"I also have a degree in software development."
"Really, that's great," you say trying to sound encouraging, but wondering now if you should give the driver a bigger tip because he's more educated than you are. Then, thankfully, you remember the tip is automatic. Phew!
"I don't understand," your mother pipes in. "What does software development have to do with how you knew my daughter had been reading about climate change. Are you some kind of magician?"
Thank God for mother - keeping it real!
"I'm going to tell you a secret," the driver says taking his eyes off the road to look at you both in the rear view mirror. You automatically lean forward even though you are afraid he might crash. "I have multiple jobs to pay off my college loans."
"Aw..." You both groan compassionately, familiar with this issue from various media sources.
"My morning job is with Ubu but I'm also a part-time consultant for Get-it, a competing taxi app that..."
"I've heard of it," you say proudly. "They have a flat fee."
"Yes, it's cheaper for the consumer and they pay their drivers double what Ubu pays."
"How do they do that?" Your mother asks.
"Nobody knows," The driver shrugs his shoulders with a mischievous grin.
"So are you spying on Poopoo?" Your mother asks.
"Ubu, Mother!"
"I'm also doing a Turk temporary research assignment for a hedge fund," the driver says. "I can't tell you the name, but they have a large investment, hundreds of millions of dollars, in Ubu. And they're getting nervous."
"But I read Ubu's worth billions and billions. More than GM or Ford," you state with authority.
"The numbers are iffy. They're still losing millions trying to gain market share and their business model is being undercut by dozens of new competitors. I've heard they're about to cut fare prices again. Plus they have a slew of legal problems including accusations of using slave labor in China and misleading drivers here in the U.S. " You notice for the first time that not only is this driver particularly smart, but he's also kind of handsome.
"I still don't understand how you know what my daughter's interests are?" Your mother insists stubbornly.
The driver holds up his smart phone, which has a strange twirling radar antenna attached to it.
"I have another job."
"What!? Did he just say he has another job?" Your mother turns to you bewildered. "I bet you're a freelance journalist. My nephew told me he gets paid 2 cents a word - that's less than my grandfather made in the 1930s. Is it true The New York Times might go out of business?"
"Mother, don't change the subject."
"I'm just trying to find out..." she looks lost for a moment. "I just want to know...who this gentleman is and how he knows who we are!"
"I also work for an advertising data compiler. I've developed a program to siphon off key words from people's smartphone browsing history and emails."
"What, I don't understand," your mother says. "Is he speaking English?"
But you're not really paying attention anymore. You look out the window at all the traffic and the people crowding on the corners waiting for the light to change. You received a notice yesterday from your landlord informing you that your rent was going up. You remember that an all-staff meeting was called for your department that morning. A strange, dreadful anxiety spreads out from the pit of your gut.
"What's the name of this firm you work for?" Your mother asks the driver.
"Digital Economics," he says.
It sounds vaguely familiar. The ends of your fingers are tingling.
"It's owned by GCM, General Conglomerate Management," the driver says.
"That's funny." Your mother turns to look at you.
"That's where I work," you involuntarily blurt out.
"I know," he says somewhat apologetically.
"Do you also know what this staff meeting is all about?"
The driver grimaces.
"I don't want to ruin your morning," he says.
"Are they going to fire me?"
"Not exactly."
"What does that mean?" You ask, trying hard not to panic.
"They're going to make you an independent contractor." He smiles kindly. "Just like me."