The ride to the airport to go to country number 83: Brunei.
Why am I going to Brunei?
I say that I’m going there to write about the geo-economic situation in Southeast Asia and how that corresponds with the declining influence of the USA (but is US influence really declining?) and the ever-rising tide of China, and this is true — I will go and do my work, I will write my articles, I will make money from this trip — but I have to admit that this may not be the real reason that I’m going to Brunei in particular
The real reason is…you know what’s coming…because I just want to go there.
I’ve never been to Brunei before. I don’t have any blog posts up on this site about it, I know very little about the place, and don’t have many connections there.
I scheduled a Uber to take me to the airport from my apartment in KL at four in the morning.
It was the first time that I tried the schedule function of Uber, and it worked well, thus solving a mini-problem of travel: how to get to the airport in the early morning hours?
Getting to the airport before public transport wakes up can be expensive and irritating. With Uber — or I suppose any similar app — I just plugged in the time I wanted the driver to come at the night before and then he shows up.
The driver told me that he primarily drives back and forth from Kuala Lumpur and the airport, but what was interesting about this story was that he said he often waits five to eight hours until he can get a passenger to drive back.
Uber arranges drivers in a queue based on who arrives first. He said the queue at KLIA 1 and 2 could sometimes be hundreds of drivers long. So he waits — sometimes waiting an entire work day’s worth of hours — just to not make the return trip to KL empty handed. He tells me that his wife makes him sandwiches for the wait and he usually just goes to sleep.
I paid $18 to get to the airport. Now subtract Uber’s 20% and multiply this by two and this is what this guy is making for a day of work.
Uber and similar ride share systems have reshaped not only how people get places but how people work — or are a symptom of this change. The Uber ethic of “work when you want, make as much money as you work” is going to become the way that companies are going to set themselves up for most types of low-level office or independent service jobs.
Supply and demand will rule the process: employees who work during unfavorable times when less people are working will get paid a little more. It will all be automated: you will check into work by pushing a button on an app and use the provided interface. You won’t ever have to see your coworkers; there won’t be any such thing as scheduling; no HR departments. All workers will be tracked and rated, if someone sucks they automatically get sent for additional training or fired.
There will be giant co-working plants scattered all around cities where workers from a hundred different companies pour in at random each day. The people sitting to your left and right will probably be different each day, work for different companies in different industries. The “we’re all in it together, team!” ethic of office culture will no longer exist. You will work near other people, not with other people.
Co-working and self-directed labor is now the trendy, cool, progressive way of working, but it will soon be seen for what it is: an organizational structure of work where people will put in more hours, produce more, make less money, and cost companies way less in overhead.
Imagine: companies will have no office culture to tend over, no more inter-personal issues because someone didn’t like a word that someone else said, no more wasting time punishing workers for being late, no need to worry about race/age/sex demographics — who their employees are and where they come from is irrelevant: everybody will be numbered, not named, and graded on performance with the same standards being universally applied.
The new office is no office; the new workday is 24/7.
Those Uber drivers in Malaysia drive and drive and drive, don’t really make any money, and say that it’s better than what they were doing before.
Back to Brunei
Why am I going there? Like I once told a US immigration inspector after being sent to tier-2 after going to Iraq: I want to go to all the countries, and Iraq is one of them.
Well, I can’t say that I’m on a pursuit to visit every country — I’m not going out of my way to some obscure island nation that I have no business being just to boost my country count. But I know that there is always some additional value-added when crossing a border:
One side is never the same as the other. Never.
Some people like to say that borders are artificial constructs that have no impact on anything on the ground, but these people either have idealistic bags over their heads or they haven’t crossed many borders.
Borders are real. They are the places where one tribe meets another, and many borders are natural — a river, a mountain range, a sheer elevation change — and have been separating one people from another, one market from another for a very long time.
Then there’s the fact that being air dropped into a new country is a good impetus to make new connections, acquire new streams of information, and find more stories.