Jerktech: Silicon Valley's most shameful export

Jerktech is the very apt epithet for the class of "disruptive" startups that sell things that don't belong to them, like parking spots and restaurant reservations, simply raising the prices of them and making access to public resources a factor of your disposable income.

The term comes from a very good Josh Constine piece on Techcruch, in which he tries to draw a distinction between "disruptive" and "jerky."

Don’t concert ticket re-sale sites like StubHub encourage and take a cut from scalping? Yes, and I’m not a big fan of them for that reason. If the demand for a band’s ticket is high, they’re the ones that should be making the mark-up, not some sleazy guy with 20 computers who bought 40 tickets the second they went on sale to turn around and flip them. But at least that guy has to bet his own money that he can resell a private commodity he bought.

There are ways to disrupt with building JerkTech. Take Uber. I don’t always agree with with its aggressive execution, but the taxi industry had been content giving the people a crummy service for too long. With unreliable scheduled pick-ups, run-down cars, and road-ragey drivers talking on the phone the whole time, they were inviting someone to change things. Uber is far from perfect, but it’s giving people a better experience by updating an (albeit regulated) private industry.

Stop The JerkTech (via JWZ)

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  1. Seems like the only real distinction between these two things is whether you can muster any empathy for the victims of the "disruption".

    Which would be fine I guess if there was any sort of moral sense to who you were able to empathize with. But that's not what we get. Instead, we have disruptive tech that makes parking or reserving restaurant tables getting labeled "jerktech", while disruptive tech putting teachers and cabbies and basically every other decent paying middle class job in the country out of business is cheered on.

    That even the tech folks who think they're grappling with these issues (like the TechCrunch writer) think these minor inconveniences are worthy of outrage, but not destroying the country's middle class through automation, is beyond depressing. They're destroying the world and all they can think of to be outraged by is their parking difficulties.

  2. This article seems spot on to me: as a SF resident I'm well aware of the Monkey Park brouhaha, and yes, fuck those guys. The City is cracking down: good. For the record: I have a smart phone, I could even pay if I had what. The parking game is first come, first served: open eyes, quick reflexes. The dude in the beater Sentra should have as much chance for a spot as someone in a Maserati.

    The reservation thieves are even worse: for the business model to work, I assume they would have to make many fake reservations at many restaurants and hope to hook some desperate diners and skim off the top: meanwhile the restaurants lose business every single day. My wife works in a restaurant, the margins are damn thin and the pay is not spectacular; so here come some slimy little fuckwits with an app and a plan to make life harder for my spouse and every other hard working person in the industry so they can make a buck? Ohhhh the exquisite profanities I am suppressing. The hopes for office wide Legionnaires Disease, or lasting herpes outbreak...nope, I'll even refrain from that too...

    But I do hope that whatever powers that be who can quash this TheftTech (because that's what it really is) throw the goddamn library at these assholes.

  3. Capitalism is a machine for rationalizing human behavior. All human behavior. Now, some things, like concert tickets, parking spaces, love, and restaurant reservations have, thus far, remained irrational. We related to them outside of the market, they were seen as things you couldn't reduce to a simple dollar value. Sure, there was money involved, but the parking space was worth more than the $2 it costed to park there. How much more? We never bothered to put a price on it.

    But that is, of course, an outrage, because irrational behaviors are inefficient, and inefficiency is unacceptable. Everything in theory has a precise value, and therefore everything should have a precise price, so that people with money can efficiently buy and sell it. The only reason these particular interactions remained outside the market is because the technology didn't exist to commodify them.

    Now that we have ubiquitous handheld computers, the market will inevitably commodify more things, just as it has already commodified so much of our life, and just like it will enclose all the other irrationalities as soon as technology makes it possible.

    Your feelings about the specific instance - whether they're jerky or reasonable - are irrelevant. Capitalism doesn't care how you feel, it literally cannot do anything else. You're seeing the behaviors of a machine that was created to do exactly this kind of thing. The only alternative is to destroy the machine.

  4. The parking spot is public property. Individuals shouldn't be able to buy or sell it at all.

    If I'm done using a picnic table in a busy park I'm not going to keep sitting there until someone else pays me to leave, because that picnic table is a public resource and it would be a total dick move to charge other people to use something that doesn't belong to me.

  5. Whoever embezzles, steals, purloins, or knowingly converts to his use or the use of another, or without authority, sells, conveys or disposes of any record, voucher, money, or thing of value of the United States or of any department or agency thereof, or any property made or being made under contract for the United States or any department or agency thereof; or

    Whoever receives, conceals, or retains the same with intent to convert it to his use or gain, knowing it to have been embezzled, stolen, purloined or converted—

    Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both; but if the value of such property in the aggregate, combining amounts from all the counts for which the defendant is convicted in a single case, does not exceed the sum of $1,000, he shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than one year, or both.

    The word “value” means face, par, or market value, or cost price, either wholesale or retail, whichever is greater.

    Read the bolded text. Your parking spot is not property of the United States, it is property of your municipality. But if it were a federally owned parking spot, yes it would be theft of public property. And it is not a stretch to guess that states have similar laws that would apply to state and municipal property. The moment you sell it, it attains a market value, and thus becomes a "thing of value" that you are stealing. This is not an odd definition of theft, it is a very plain one. I hope people start getting arrested (note, as others have above, Uber has nothing to do with any of this).

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