Austin Innovates While SideCar Litigates

While Sunil Paul continues his self-righteous and selfish lawsuits against cities that want to regulate his ridesharing app, SideCar, Austin is moving toward authorizing and regulating such services. Of course, the city — unlike Paul — is taking a measured, deliberate approach with a broader view of such services’ socioeconomic impact.

Cue The Austin Chronicle on the most recent City Council meeting:

“Also in the postponed (until the June 8th meeting) argumentative pile is the revision of the ‘ridesharing’ ordinance; staff have been trying to come up with a way of handling the unofficial, online ‘sharing’ trade – in which riders ‘donate’ for the privilege of accepting a ‘rideshare’ – without effectively sanctioning an unregulated taxi service. Currently, it’s an unacknowledged, pseudo-libertarian black market, and it’s not clear if it can be brought under the transportation umbrella without jeopardizing established cab companies and their drivers.”

This is as it should be. Except that Paul should be working alongside the city in formulating the new policy. Whether or not the new regulations will satisfy him or the courts, Sunil’s absence from the policy discussion – aside from publishing incendiary, holier-than-thou blog posts and siccing lawyers — put on display his failure to simply be a good citizen. That makes it hard to believe his company is a “good corporate citizen” or socially conscious, which they claim to be. What follows from that? Regulation.

As Rob Goodspeed writes in an excellent column published today,

“[I]nstitutional reform should be done carefully, not unthinkingly. We accept ‘disruption’ in the private sector, but always under the watchful eye of regulations. But private businesses merely (for the most part) make stuff. Government and educational institutions play a much central role in our society, and we may be blind to their deep and nuanced functions. They are not all good or bad, and certainly should not be above thoughtful reform. In fact, I wrote previously that technology-centered efforts to reform city government are significant specifically because they are at least interested in the important issue of government reform.”

That last sentence is very important. To reform government (that is, develop new or reform old policies), folks like Paul need to actively engage with the branch that makes policy — and the one that implements and enforces it. Not the judicial branch. That comes later, if needed. (See my earlier posts on this subject here, here and here and possibly elsewhere.)

You should read all of Goodspeed’s column. It addresses many of the fundamental issues I discuss in this blog: the need for techies, or as Goodspeed names them, “Internet Intellectuals,” to engage policymakers, communities, agencies and others involved in solving dire structural issues rather than believe they are above them. (He goes much further. Go read it.)

My only real quibble with his column is that he may go too far in affording these “Internet Intellectuals” such a name or to classify their world as a field or discipline approaching that of others in academe. As he notes about techie forays into education:

“The more nuanced practitioners are aware of these dimensions, but the loudest proponents of new online education models, inevitably from engineering or computer science, are throwing out the babies (curriculum, liberal arts, in-person seminars, the social experience of attending college, etc) with the bathwater, because they never valued the baby very much to begin with. For them, education is a set of discrete, narrow skills that are valued in industry. Full stop. The rest is for your spare time.”

My question is: Wouldn’t one have to break the “Internet Intellectual” crowd down into computer science, design, engineering (as he mentions) and other fields to adequately approach those in academe? Or is “the Internet” actually its own discourse community and field with no relation to contemporary or past studies and disciplines — the ones that continue, came before and produced it? Simply put, what the hell is an “Internet Intellectual”? An intense ideological punditry masked as social critique? It’s worse than any political punditry (not all political discourse is vapid). Silicon Valley is even farther away from “middle America” than D.C. At least the East Coast — and much of the rest of the country — is willing to enter into a discussion with people and companies offering innovative products and processes. It’s those tech centers — and especially the West Coast — and their CEOs who refuse to engage with their fellow citizens (and, oh yeah, consumers).

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Side note: An old friend of mine followed the study-for-a-job, college-is-a-luxury approach and is doing far better than I am — what with my college education and extensive, low-paid experience in public policy and all. He’s doing well. I’m looking for employment nationwide with a willingness to relocate for the right opportunity.