How the On-Demand Economy Reshaped Cities

If you needed a ride, you used to call the taxi company directly, or flag down one of the cabs that served that area. Now we transmit our demands for trips and beds as data from wherever we are, rather than direct interactions that depend on physical nearness. Uber and Airbnb consolidate our requests with those of a sea of other users, set prices, offer us suppliers, and dispatch them to us (for more on this, see the technology analyst Ben Thompson’s aggregation theory). The apps are creating their own agglomerations of demand, networks that are held together via digital ligaments instead of actual proximity. Kevin Webb, a transportation data expert, points out that Amazon works the same way, building off the big-box store model that came before it: