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How the On-Demand Economy Reshaped Cities

Since 2010, a slew of on-demand companies and technologies have managed to use consumer data to transform the commercial significance of urban living.
The more urban citizens live life in the cloud, the less it seems to matter that we actually live in cities.
The more urban citizens live life in the cloud, the less it seems to matter that we actually live in cities.Mike Householder/AP

In 1964, scientists in the Galápagos Islands fed radio transmitters wrapped in chunks of food to a bunch of giant tortoises. As the animals slept, wandered, and mated, their behaviors pinged back to the research team’s receivers in the form of radio signals.

This early use of telemetry, or the transmission of computer information over long ranges, proved that biologists could observe, make inferences about, and even influence their subjects remotely. In her 2019 tome The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, the Harvard scholar Shoshanna Zuboff writes that the tortoise experiment was also a prelude for the kind of data-collection technology that has become ubiquitous in human society. And in the 2010s, it began to transform the shape of modern cities.