Uber & Food Trucks: How the Internet Stokes the Flame of Once Little-Known Causes
"Grassroots" is a term that first came into usage in the United States in the early part of the 20th century as a means of explaining that political candidates were going back to the root of a problem, starting from scratch. It no doubt had broad appeal with the large percentage of the country that lived and worked outside the cities.
The Internet has been a boon to grassroots causes, aiding in everything from fundraising to petitions to event planning. No candidate or initiative goes without a website, a social media presence and an e-mail campaign.
But because the demographics of the Internet are still skewed largely toward affluent, college-educated people under 50 who live in urban areas, it can lead to the popularization of ideas not widely considered until now and rarely of great concern to those who don't fit that demographic. That can deliver interesting and sometimes unintended results. On one hand, it might shine a light on oppression and even hasten the fall of a political regime as it did in Syria. On the other, it allows the spread of anti-government paranoia from 911 Truthers, which can further confuse an already confused and frustrated electorate. In essence, the web can be an unexpected hero or an asylum for the Boogie Man.
In the case of Uber or food trucks in Houston, there are questions of business regulations, safety and the like that must be answered. But more important, we as a city have to ask if these causes deserve the precious time required for our city officials to debate them. That isn't for me to decide. But when people online overwhelmingly supported saving the Astrodome yet the ballot initiative was soundly rejected, it gave me pause.
After all, I love a good food truck, but there's a reason why chain restaurants are so successful. And I think Uber and Lyft are great ideas, but my guess is that the majority of people who call cabs will still call them instead. Maybe one day there will be a food truck on every block serving up authentic Thai street food and Uber will dominate the world of car services. But for now, people still seem to prefer Applebee's and Yellow Cab and I doubt tweets and Facebook messages will do much to change that.