Fred A. Bernstein

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My New App: Splainer

Uber and Tinder are just the app-etizers

Published in Metropolitan Home, May 31, 2016

Everyone has an idea for an app. Mine is for couples who don't want to tell their parents that they met through Grindr, or Tinder, or Grouper of Clover, or whichever other dating app they "clicked" on. It compares their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram feeds and, using data on their mutual friends, shared interests, and whereabouts over the last two years, creates an unassailable cover story - a faux history of how they met and got to know each other. I think I'll call it Splainer.

I've also invented a peripheral device - a lighted sign that says "NOT Uber." I needed that one on my last trip to Los Angeles. Stopped at a red light in my black rental car, I noticed a man on the corner glancing at me, then looking down at his iPhone, and then glancing back. I knew what was coming next. "Are you my Uber?" he asked, hopefully .
I hated to disappoint him. I knew just how he felt, having stood on street corners, phone in hand, checking out every black car in sight.

If I could have, I would have given him a lift. True, I was late for a Lakers' game, and dinner at Redbird, a terrific new restaurant on the east side of downtown L.A. But concerned about my safety? Not a bit. Everyone who uses Uber is on best behavior. Drivers know that passengers rate them at the end of every ride, and too many low ratings will result in termination. And it's pretty much the same for passengers: let your average rating drop below 4 stars and drivers will avoid you.

That's my favorite thing about the "sharing economy" - everyone is ranked according to civility, which is how society should work. (Wasn't it always that way in small towns?) I was comfortable renting out my spare bedroom on Airbnb, which I did for several months last year, for the same reason. In fact, I had five or six terrific Airbnb guests (and was making a handy $150 a night) before my building sent a "cease and desist" letter, citing the dangers of giving strangers access to the building. I explained that the strangers had been evaluated by other hosts; if they didn't have plenty of five-star ratings, I didn't rent to them. The building didn't budge. But several months ago, I met the co-founder of Airbnb, Joe Gebbia, at a party. I told him about my building, and he said he is working on ways of persuading co-op and condo boards to permit Airbnb rentals. Maybe it will involve using the subtle pressure of ratings. "This condo board gets 1 1/2 stars." See what that does to property values!

I've also been an Airbnb guest, with wonderful results. Not because I don't like hotels, but because there are hotel-less neighborhoods I want to experience. Before heading to Denver last summer, I booked a room in the RiNo (River North) section of town. I arrived late at night, so when I woke up, I was amazed to find myself on what might well be the hippest street in America. (If you haven't been there, take my word for it and go.) Hutch & Spoon, at 3090 Larimer Street, became my morning hangout, and the Populist, at 3163 Larimer, my go-to dinner spot. And Botanico, at 3054 Larimer, provided one of the friendliest shopping experiences of my life. "Today's menu" included a strain called Kandy Kush, which an employee named Mira promised "will keep you on cloud nine for hours." I plan to go back to RiNo against next summer, and I'll be using Airbnb, since the neighborhood's first hotel isn't scheduled to open until 2017.

When I do stay need to stay in a hotel, I spend a lot of time on Tripadvisor before booking. And I may never have to eat in a bad restaurant again, thanks to Yelp and similar review sites. But I'm not some kind of app addict. A few of the latest offerings seem at best redundant. The much-vaunted delivers restaurant food, but so do most of the restaurants I frequent, without a middleman. And when I tried to order two favorite dishes from a restaurant 4.8 miles away (Lucien, on Manhattans' Lower East Side), Postmates' delivery charge ($47.00 ) was as much as the appetizer and entree.

Also, the on-line life entails a loss of privacy. Millions of Americans seem to prefer convenience over the right to keep personal data confidential, and I'm afraid I'm one of them. Uber knows everywhere I've been - and I'm okay with that. I'm more worried about the loss of serendipity: Will I ever be truly surprised by a store or restaurant or hotel, if I've read dozens of reviews before leaving the house?

Apps are bringing greater predictability to our lives. On Tinder, only people who've "right swiped" each other - a kind of "pre-approval" - meet. But the whole sharing economy is a Tinder economy: people can see profiles, and in many cases photos, before deciding to do business with each other. It wouldn't be much of a stretch for apps like Uber to offer a dating option: let passengers choose drivers, and drivers choose passengers, based on their looks.

The idea has been spoofed on Youtube, as a kind of four-wheeled sexcapade. But why not a serious version - transportation, with romantic possibilities? Drivers, swipe right if you'd like to give this passenger a ride. Pasengers, swipe right if you'd like to give this driver a chance. Tinder crossed with Uber - call it Tuber. Grab your "NOT Uber" sign, hide the first two letters, and you're set.

And for people who meet on Tuber, and don't want their parents to know, we'll be sure to offer a discount at Splainer.