Uber car vs the bicycle: Who will win the innovation race?

An Uber rider on Peponi Road. [XN Iraki]

The other day, I saw a young man riding a bicycle with a backpack written “Uber Eats” on Peponi Road.

I guess he was delivering or had just delivered food somewhere. Uber is modern, bicycle is old fashioned. Yet “the dance” between the two defines the nation’s economic future. 

On the one hand is Uber, an innovation that connects service providers, easily and conveniently. Want a taxi? Go on your phone. Hungry? Get on your phone. 

Uber simply makes use of excess resources, yet every economist talks of scarcity! Think of BnB and the excess space in your house; or carpooling.  

With Uber, car parks should be empty. Why keep cars idle when they are „money” in Uber-speak? 

But to deliver these services through Uber and other applications (apps), you need the physical infrastructure, the roads and the means like cars, motorbikes and surprisingly bicycles. 

The latter was supposed to be dead, killed by motorcycles. The bicycle has nine lives like the cat. With rising fuel prices, the bicycle comes in handy.

It just uses muscle power. Take a walk on ring roads or bypasses in the city, they are full of people- muscle power again. 

We can have the best innovations, but they exist within reality. Uber Eats and the bicycle are not a contradiction.

They are a reaction to economic reality, and we expect more of that as prices go up and firms send individuals home or look for means to reduce costs. 

We at times think of innovation as outlandish, out of this world. But they all belong to us, human beings. Think of the most advanced phone.

Someone must talk, or type. One reason we fail to innovate is overthinking. Some of the most profitable innovations are the simplest.

M-Pesa is a good example. We also think an innovation must be replaced by another. Most innovations are incremental.

Uber Eats on bicycle shows that Schumpeter’s gale of creative destruction does not destroy everything on its path like a hurricane or typhoon.  

Despite power in your house, you probably keep that old-fashioned candle or a torch. Despite piped water, you still keep that plastic water tank. Despite LCD projectors, chalk is still on sale. 

The computer did not kill the pen or the paper. The microwave oven has not killed the jiko (charcoal stove).

Economic reality seems to regulate the speed of Schumpeter’s gale. Old and new innovations co-exist and dance together. What in your home or workplace has refused to be replaced like the bicycle?

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