Maybe it’s because I was out of France for 8 of the past 11 weeks, but it feels like there’s a new buzzword in the air:
It’s difficult to open a French website without the seeing the word in a headline; journalists cannot get enough of it. One would be forgiven for thinking that nobody is sheltered from the looming storm of ubérisation, whether it be:
- law (Ubérisation du droit et guerre des robes)
- energy (L’ubérisation du pétrole)
- social welfare (L’ubérisation, témoin et acteur d’une révolution sociale)
- real estate (Le PDG de Century 21 oppose service au client et “ubérisation” de l’immobilier)
- politics (Pourquoi l’ubérisation ne doit pas exister à gauche)
There’s even a Wikipedia entry for the term ubérisation… in French but not in English. That’s because uberisation (or uberization) has not really entered the English vernacular. Now, I’m not saying that the term in non-existent. This Forbes article in March 2014 predicts the “uberization” of talent. I found an even earlier use of the word uberization in this tweet from 2012. Yet the term never really became a buzzword with journalists tripping over themselves to deploy it in every sensationalist piece they can.
The apocalypse is… proche ?
Language reveals a lot about culture, so the sudden prevalence of ubérisation in the French media piqued my interest. My interpretation is that this is driven by fear.
Ubérisation is the label that the French media has given to the menace of disruption. It represents the enemy, a threat to traditional industries and a harbinger of job loss. Even Donald Trump is linked to the phenomenon. As is often the case in France when facing something new, a think-tank emerges. In this case, it’s the l’Observatoire de l’Ubérisation (the “uberization observatory”). [Note: setting aside whatever you may think of think-tanks, I do credit the founders of Ubérisation Observatoire with asking the right questions].
This contrasts starkly with North America, where Uber metaphorically represents innovation for consumers by using smartphones to offer products or services on-demand. By exploiting inefficiencies in existing markets, the promise of Uber means democratizing the luxury of convenience at mass-market prices. Although this promise is bearing fruit in woefully-inefficient, customer-unfriendly industries like taxis, it is not yet proving out the unit economics in businesses like grocery delivery.
I submit that fretting over the ubérisation of everything is a bit premature.