In the hollow universe of corporate jargon, tech clichés inspire a particular kind of madness. Invoked broadly, they become absurd. Behold the disruption! The innovation! The surprise and delight! If everyone's failing fast, at some point, isn't everyone just failing?
Which is why, when everything became "like an Uber for" everything else* in 2014, none of it sounded all that meaningful. (*See also: Pizza, private jets, drones, snow removal, prostitutes, ATMs, housekeeping, weed, dry cleaning, dog walking, coffee, ambulances, car breakdowns, language tutoring, &c.)
But there's another reason Uber, public relations swamp monster though it may be, has become the go-to way to describe an on-demand service. Somewhere on the way to its $40 billion valuation, Uber crossed a cultural threshold this year.
"Like an Uber for" is shorthand for describing an item or service delivered wherever you are and whenever you want it, but the phrase also hints at a much larger shift in people's expectations about their interactions with the world. It turns out one of the most hackneyed phrases in tech this year may also be one of the most profound.
Uber's simple brilliance, Atlantic contributing editor Alexis Madrigal once pointed out, can be explained like this: You touch a button on your phone and something happens in the world. Or, as venture capitalist and early Uber user Jon Callaghan wrote in 2010, "what started as a one button push ended up with me zooming across time and space merely 3 minutes later." Which is huge. Because at the scale of the city and the street, the line between the physical world and the digital one is now blurred. And that's happening all over the world. Uber is now in 200 cities. It is cemented in the city dweller's lexicon as one of the basic ways to get around.