Uber’s new offer: Shut up and drive

Uber has announced that it is rolling out “quiet mode” for passengers. It’s designed as a way for people to hop into their transportation and politely tell their driver to – borrow from Rihanna – Shut up and drive.

Depending on your personality, this is news that is either going to make you cheer or make you scoff.

If you’re the anxious or antisocial type, and you prefer to spend your Uber commute eyeballs deep in your Insta feed, then this probably comes as a blessed relief.


Others, like me, see this is as a massive step backwards for humanity. Is this really something that we need in society?!

I spent the weekend in Sydney, during which time I caught 6 Ubers and taxis. Sometimes I was in a jovial mode and wanted to chat (ahem perhaps a few beverages in), other times I was happy to watch the city whizz past me through the rain-soaked window.

Either way, my driver generally read the mood fairly quickly and either engaged in conversation, or drove in companionable silence. After all, these people are full-grown adults with decision-making abilities. Isn’t it a tiny bit offensive to need to police or strategise something as basic as “small talk”?!

Apparently we do, according to clinical psychologist Paul Gilbert, author of Living Like Crazy.

“We all put on an act about how people want to see and hear us. We do it all the time on social media,” he tells The Guardian. “We aren’t necessarily adapted to be interacting with strangers all the time. People find it incredibly tiring. At least in a taxi, you have an opportunity to sit and be quiet.”

In other words, it’s a chance to rest our personas or alter-egos for a few minutes.

Meanwhile, Dr Tom Rice, a lecturer in sonic anthropology at Exeter University, points out that unlike our eyes, which we can squeeze shut if we choose to, “we don’t have earlids”.

“We don’t have any control over what drips into our ears and collects in them. Earphones are the closest we have to that.”

And now we have Uber quiet mode as well. Well, some of us do; it’s only being rolled out in Uber Black and Uber Black SUV rides, which are generally 50%-200% more expensive than a regular UberX ride.

I guess the rest of us can suffer in small talk.