Uber 'quiet mode': a sign of an anti-social society or a blessing in disguise?

As Uber gives passengers in the US the option to silence drivers, we look at the pros and cons around the idea

DUBAI , UNITED ARAB EMIRATES , DEC 17  – 2017 :- One of the person using Uber app to book the taxi in Dubai.  (Pawan Singh / The National)
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We’ve all been there. It’s been a long day, we finally escape and jump in our waiting Uber, excited to finally finish that podcast episode or catch up on your WhatsApp group chat, but our taxi driver has other ideas.

Small talk is the nature of the job for taxi drivers. From simply asking their passengers how their day was to telling tourists about their home city, the constraints of a cab are the home of many a conversation between strangers.

But the chatty taxi driver could soon be a thing of the past for Uber passengers, as the taxi app introduces 'quiet mode', giving its customers the chance to request a silent ride.

Quiet mode is currently being trialled on Uber’s premium rides in the US, but around the world, the new feature has split opinion. While for some, the idea of a small-talk free ride might sound like a blessing, others feel it “de-humanises” drivers.

"As an Uber driver I can tell you we aren't offended when you say you would rather not talk, [it] works both ways," said one Twitter user. "There are days where I just want to drive in peace and I get passengers telling me all about their lives so I kindly tell them I don't feel like being chatty and they get it."

Another Twitter user added: “I've had over chatty Uber drivers react badly when I've asked for quiet. As someone with anxiety it is a scary thing to do, and solo women often feel threatened in cabs. It's sad but a reality [is] that asking can be hard."

Uber is giving certain passengers the option to request a silent ride. Reuters
Uber is giving certain passengers the option to request a silent ride. Reuters

But writer Robin Dicker disagrees. “Uber’s quiet mode feature is disturbing,” she said in a Tweet. “It dehumanises the workers. The epitome of Silicon Valley privilege. Like computerised check-out lines at the grocery. People are made to connect. Imagine what people would learn if they spoke to strangers, people outside their circles.”

Uber's 'quiet mode' is currently only available on UberBlack of SUV rides under new rider preference options.

Here, two of The National's writers argue for and against a 'quiet mode' option, after many chatty cab journeys around the UAE.

In support of ‘quiet mode’

Nothing fills me with dread like the onset of unnecessary small talk.

You might think this is odd for a journalist, but it actually makes perfect sense. Much of my job involves talking to people, interviewing people and networking at industry events, and when I am not doing those things, I like to indulge myself in the luxury of silence.

Every day, I spend around 40 minutes in taxis, and for me that's a time to either prepare for the day ahead, or catch up on what I've missed while I've been at the office – whether that's conversations with friends back home, the latest episode of my favourite podcast, or, more likely, the latest dog memes flying around the internet.

Uber's 'quiet mode' is currently being trialled on certain rides in the US. Antonie Robertson / The National
Uber's 'quiet mode' is currently being trialled on certain rides in the US. Antonie Robertson / The National

Being British, politeness is in my nature, so on the occasion my taxi driver does make conversation with me, I will always indulge it, often begrudgingly, waiting for the moment I can get back to the group chat. Does that make me anti-social? Maybe. But for me, a taxi ride is a precious moment of respite that doesn’t need to turn into a recital of my backstory.

Of course, there have been times when I’ve had some perfectly pleasant conversations with taxi drivers, especially when discovering new places, but they have definitely been the exception.

I’ve had to stifle far too many ‘why aren’t you married’ queries or questions that verged on the uncomfortable, and to have the option not to have to deal with that after a long day is something I can get on board with.

Sophie Prideaux

In favour of taxi conversation

Asking a cabbie to not talk while driving is like asking an orchestra to perform without music. It’s like a karak tea without sugar or Ramadan with no dates. It simply doesn’t make sense.

Uber’s decision to pilot a silent option for its users fundamentally misunderstands the role of the taxi driver. In big cities where the population ebbs and flows, it is the seasoned cabbies that are often one and only constant. They are a repository of great wisdom that provides context to the cities that we live in or visit. The idea of shutting that fountain of knowledge down just so customers can enjoy a few minutes quiet time is not only petty, but can ultimately affect the character of the city. Besides, if you don’t want to talk to the cab driver, put on your headphones. They will get the message.

Saeed Saeed