3 Dumb Everyday Things Big Tech Accidentally Reinvented
Ahh, Silicon Valley – the global capital famed for its unparalleled innovation, impressive tech prowess, and scenic landscape, including mountains upon mountains of co…ding. Yeah, coding.
Yet amid the revolutionary originality of products like the iPod, 3D printers, and several social media platforms largely owned by a man who loves to use his bottle of Sweet Baby Ray's barbeque sauce as a bookend, like any normal human man is prone to do, not all ideas are winners (looking at you, Theranos), or even somewhat original. Throughout the past several years, Silicon Valley moguls have found themselves quite literally reinventing the wheel, pitching bold concepts touted to revolutionize society, only to realize they already exist.
From Lyft reinventing the bus to someone accidentally pitching a public park, here are three times big tech accidentally reinvented everyday things.
Uber Reinvents The Bus
The year was 2017. Having a set of AirPods was still considered a flex. The world had yet to meet the real star of Rick and Morty (and the favorite joke of every 20-something dude with a superiority complex) Pickle Rick. If you had uttered the word “Covid-19” to a random passerby, they would have probably assumed your time-traveling ass was discussing the word on everybody's lips – “Covfefe."
It may have not been the best of times or the worst of times (2020 would later take that honor) but it was probably the weirdest of times, at least in the world of rideshare apps. In June 2017, Lyft, in all of its self-described “woke" (read: not Uber) glory, introduced the world to Shuttles. An extension of the Lyft Line service, which like the now temporarily-defunct Uber Pool, is just a really, overpriced version of carpooling, Lyft Shuttles would send their fleet of vehicles to drop off and pick up passengers at several pre-determined stops along a pre-determined route for a pre-determined price. Now, if the idea of “walk to stop. Hop in. Hop out. Walk to destination,” as Lyft described the program, sounds eerily familiar, it's because its new fleet of Shuttles are basically just the f--king bus – but like, with several extra steps.
“Lyft Line is the future of rideshare, and we often test new features that we believe will have positive impact on our passengers' transportation options,” a representative for the company told The Verge at the time, when the program was being tested during peak commute hours in San Francisco and Chicago. “We look forward to feedback on Shuttle from the Lyft community; we see a number of commuting use cases that this mode will make easier.”
Well, folks, it was feedback they asked for and feedback they sure as hell got. Although Lyft was not the first big tech staple to attempt recreating mass transit, with competitor Uber piloting Uber Hop, a concept nearly identical to Shuttles, a few years earlier in 2015, the internet could not resist the urge to remind the fine folks at Lyft that they didn't just reinvent the wheel – they reinvented the whole damn bus.
“Here’s the thing: That’s a bus," mused writer Brian Feldman for New York Magazine's Intelligencer vertical. “I mean, yeah, you’re riding in someone’s car instead of a large bus, but it’s a bus. It’s a bus!" he continued.
Yet the idea of Lyft simply repackaging public transit in its shiny, hot pink branding and calling it a day wasn't the only part of the Shuttles initiative that evidently irked Feldman – the endeavor's marketing materials and potential adverse impacts on public transit also served as apparent points of contention. “And yet, Lyft cannot bring itself to use the word ‘bus’ anywhere in its promotion (because it doesn’t want you to think you’re taking a bus),” he explained. “So let’s be clear: You’re taking an expensive bus — one that people without smartphones or credit cards are excluded from — and gradually hollowing out your city’s public transit system.”
However, Feldman was far from alone in his annoyance with Lyft reinventing the bus. In the months following, this story seemingly became a meme of its own, one that inspired not only this very article …
… but also further popularized a broad concept in the world of big tech -- the notion that in this ever-changing “unprecedented” hellhole, some tech bro a-hole will always think they're the next Steve Jobs for accidentally reinventing the bus.
Elon Musk reinvents car tunnels
Now, I know what you may be thinking: “Who, exactly are these tech bro a-holes with an apparent hard-on for claiming they're the Thomas Edison of mass transit and why haven't I heard of them?” Well, reader, you probably already have – look no further than everyone's favorite entrepreneur-turned-SEC-foe-turned-SNL-host-turned-Dogecoin-salesman – good 'ol Elon Musk and his Boring Company.
Aside from creating the “not a flamethrower” flamethrower that may or may not be viewed as “A-OK” in the eyes of the ATF, but is undoubtedly viewed as badass in the eyes of pretty much everyone else, The Boring Company has gone where several other start-ups have before (at least in theory) – recreating existing transportation.
Famously founded in 2016 after Musk came to the ultra-original epiphany that sitting in traffic certifiably sucks, the Space X CEO's millions of Twitter followers saw the company's genesis in real-time via a series of exasperated posts.
“Traffic is driving me nuts,” he wrote. “Am going to build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging...”
Founded that same, fateful day, the Boring Company made good on the mogul's road-rage-induced promises – well, at least the promise of digging tunnels in an attempt to alleviate congestion.
For instance, described as an "ultra-high-speed public transportation system in which passengers travel in autonomous electric pods at 600+ miles per hour," per the Boring Company's website, Hyperloop, one of the start-up's solutions, is a grand undertaking, a futuristic vision of frictionless, air vacuum-based, ultra-fast transportation. Despite these bold claims of revolutionizing travel – with Hyperloop the typically three-ish-hour train ride from New York City to Washington D.C. would be slashed down to just 30 minutes, the site boasts – the reality has proven to be far different – and by “far different" I mean … shockingly run-of-the-mill. Although it seems many of the Boring Company's innovations may still be in development, most of what has come to fruition thus far could be best described as a car riding on a paved tunnel. Groundbreaking – literally.
As such, not everyone was impressed with the start-up's tangible work, namely, GQ's Jay Willis, who described the invention as a “hilariously bad subway system" while discussing how Virginia transit officials put the (temporary) kibosh on bringing Hyperloop to their state back in 2019.
“It is good for smart people to spend their time coming up with genuinely innovative methods of overhauling this country's crumbling transportation infrastructure, and for diligent public servants to invest accordingly in promising technologies,” he wrote. “It is, however, perhaps the height of Silicon Valley's terminal delusions of grandeur to decide that turning expensive electric vehicles into tiny train cars will accomplish anything other than enriching the already very rich people who manufacture them.” Ouch.
CBC Reporter reinvents … public parks?
Reader, have you ever looked at a public park and thought “hmmm, I wonder how some billionaire entrepreneur could charge more money for that?” Although technically not a big tech power player, it seems Canadian CBC reporter, Lauren Pelley had this exact thought cross her mind back in January 2020, a revolutionary musing she shared with the world.
“Start-up company idea: Private backyards for people who don't have private backyards,” pitched Pelley in her now-infamous tweet. “I would pay $5 to rent a fenced area for an hour so I could safely play fetch with my dog while doing an outdoor summer workout. If it works for bikes and office space, why not land?”
So "why not land," as Pelley bravely mused? The answer is relatively simple. Public parks – a.k.a the favorite thing of both old people and small children alike that isn't going to bed at 6 p.m. - already exist and are currently free, a fairly obvious notion several took joy in pointing out.
While in all fairness, Pelley clarified that she referenced a personal, fenced-off area with a handful of pet-owners noting that the concept could be helpful for pups that can't visit dog parks as they don't play well with others, the concept of a rent-a-green-space sounds a little weird, especially due to the fact that there are several workarounds for city dwellers facing these woes (dog runs, using a friend's backyard, visiting dog parks during off-hours, etc.) that don't involve further gentrifying the hell out of urban areas.
But hey, if you desperately need a park with a fence, Pelley's start-up, presumably called “Prk,” “GrnSpc," or some vowel-less monstrosity mirroring the name of pretty much every millennial-founded company, it seems this idea may be for you. Fenceless parks: The epidemic of the centur--- oh, wait.
Top Image: jurvetson/Flickr, Shutterstock