Followup: Data for self-centered folks in denial

I’ve previously written about whether connected devices (primarily screen-based ones) make us perhaps inadvertently selfish or self-centered, trying to draw out a distinction between the two. I focused on the effect on society around us, and let loose a few NYC-centric anecdotes.

But I fear I drastically understated the problem. Not only are deaths increasing 2-3% specifically because of ride-sharing services, but other follow-on effects are being felt, and most acutely in dense cities:

Consistent with the notion that ridesharing increases congestion and road utilization, we find that the introduction of ridesharing is associated with an increase in arterial vehicle miles traveled, excess gas consumption, and annual hours of delay in traffic. On the extensive margin, ridesharing arrival is also associated with an increase in new car registrations. These effects are higher in cities with higher ex-ante use of public transportation and carpools, consistent with a substitution effect, and in larger cities and cities with high ex-ante vehicle ownership.

Do the design conventions we use play a role? Designers might like to think “less is more” but does the UI we create drive us to make decisions with unintended consequences? Nikil Saval writes in The New Yorker:

Think of the experience of waiting for an Uber driver, in which you follow a single vehicle making turns on an empty Google Map. Everything is evacuated from the picture except for streets: there is nothing standing between you and the vehicle but time and empty space. For a consumer, the image is ethereal. But the streets are actually full of buildings, people, and other cars. Getting around in a city requires taking up space, which by nature is subject to scarcity. Every new passenger diminishes the experience for the existing pool of customers.

These seem to be solvable problems, partly through policy changes, but political will is something easily bent. Companies, too, should be conscious of the effects their software has on cities and practice restraint.