When you think of empires, the Roman or the Mongols usually come to mind. Sometimes it might be the British imperial empire. Either way, there are a few things that they all have in common. As we have learned from our lectures at this point, these empires were all conceptional or geographic entities, had flexible borders, had a inclination to expand, and had extensive groups of people under a single, all powerful authority. Those characteristics create a gist of what it means to be an empire. Now fast forward a little, or maybe a lot, to present times. Now take a second to think about how the concept of empires has changed in modern context. In the age of smartphones and tech companies a new kind of imperial beast has emerged. Let’s take a look at Uber Technologies Inc. Now Uber isn’t going around gaining new territory by invading other countries and enslaving their peoples (looking at you Rome).
Romans invading Britain. Source
Instead, Uber is invading other countries through their markets (and serving the country’s people rather than subjugating them). Let’s examine Uber to see if it fits a modern concept of an empire. As a conceptional/geographical entity, it can be identified as a multinational company that is in service in 77 countries and over 527 cities.
Map of the countries that Uber is currently servicing as of October 2, 2016. Source
Does Uber have borders that “flexible”? For the sake of argument it can be said that its borders are as far as the individual drivers are willing to drive for their job. An even more important point is if borders even of any relevance in relation to tech companies rather than whole countries. Tech companies don’t require their own borders to function properly, but rather they work within the borders of other entities, usually countries or cities.
Onto the next criteria, the inclination to expand. As with any company that wishes to increase profits expansion into new markets (and therefore other countries) is the key to success. Uber isn’t any different. Just like empires of old, the goal of expansion was to establish your presence in the most “profitable” regions. Recently, Uber has made numerous attempt to expand their markets in Japan, which has been met with limited success. Even Uber Japan’s president, Masami Takahashi has stated, “Uber wants to be everywhere.” There could not be a more perfect statement that conveys its expansionist goals.
Last but not least, are there extensive groups of people under the control of a single authority? To some degree, there is control between upper management and individual drivers. This can be seen through rules and regulations that drivers have to follow if they wish to continue to be a part of the company. Referring back to the statistics up above, having drivers in 77 countries probably counts as having extensive groups of people (in this case drivers) under Uber.
The concept of empire isn’t concrete. It changes as world systems change. When militaristic empires went out of fashion, a new kind of empire took over. Global companies run their own empires, with the goal of maximizing profits. Uber Technology Inc. is no different from this new age model.