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Through its two-way rating system, Uber creates signs for both passengers and drivers.

By Rasika Batra

In “The Circle”, protagonist Mae Holland says “I am better behaved when people are watching me”. This made me think of the possible ways in which our everyday behaviour is influenced by the people watching and evaluating us, so to speak. And also, how this evaluation manifests as audio and visual signs.

Two instances come to mind – Uber and the Metro. Both are services used by multitudes on a daily basis. And both encourage norms,but of different kinds.

The signs on the metro are instructions that indicate the boundaries within which a person can operate –‘Don’t do this, don’t do that, be careful, mind the gap’. The signs alert you to what you need to watch out for.

Through its two-way rating system, Uber creates signs for both passengers and drivers. The out-of-five rating can be given after each ride, and the average rating received by the passenger or the driver can be checked on the app.

The regulatory signs that make up both these public transit systems are critical in shaping our behaviour towards public spaces and those within it.

The Metro disallows eating, sitting on the floor, listening to the phone on loudspeaker and littering. In fact, the instruction to not litter is emphasised both by the present and the absent signs. As much as the audio announcements work on outlining expected behaviour, the frequent absence of litter bins on the concourse and platform also reinforces the transit authority’s assumption that there will be nothing to throw or discard.

Semiotically speaking, this absence is as critical as the presence of audio signs and both ensure that people do not litter while in the metro or on the platform. And interestingly, as soon as they leave this space their behaviour changes, as garbage strewn everywhere signals the acceptance of littering and legitimises it. That is to say that the signs around indicate it is fine to litter.

Uber’s two-way rating system ensures an opportunity for both people to evaluate the quality of the ride. This system symbolises ‘partnership’ where the driver is a service provider, not an employee. This redefined power equation, a new idea within the Indian social structure, allows drivers to rate you just as you can rate them.

Subtle signs suggest how a passenger can enhance the experience of the service – give compliments, add a tipand so on. The rating system signifies the attention someone is paying to the way you behave while travelling and the signified is the kind of person you are in public spaces.

It is evident that we are moving towards a world that subscribes to the idea that we are better behaved when we are being watched.

(Image source: https://bit.ly/2PFXxeH)