After I asked my Uber driver how his day was going, Zhirayr pounded on his steering wheel. “I knew this was going to be a good ride!” he yelled. “You know why?” I figured Zhirayr was a fan of my column, enjoyed seeing me on TV or noticed I was not about to vomit from drunkenness. It was none of those things: “You are a five!”
At the end of every Uber ride, not only do you rate your driver from one to five stars, but your driver also rates you. This rating was more or less secret until this spring, when Uber began allowing people to check their personal number through its app. Although my drivers see a full five stars when I ask for a ride, my exact rating is a 4.97, putting me in the very top percentile of Uber customers. This in no way means I’m better than other people, unless you believe in objective, scientific polling.
Over the decades I have wasted minutes worrying if I’m too prying, too loud, too talkative, too cocky. Big Data has provided the previously unknowable answer to what other people think of me, and that answer is 4.97.
The knowledge an Uber rating can offer is incredibly useful. It’s also too important to be limited for use in deciding who to pick up for a ride. We could be using it for judgments about dating, electing Presidents and giving raises to columnists. I called Ed Baker, Uber’s vice president of growth, who seemed like a great guy even though he’s a 4.84. He agreed that Uber had a crucial insight that could really help society. “It would be cool if we put everyone’s rider ratings on their desk,” he said, considering ways to improve his company. I got off the phone before he tried to give me a job. Since I’ve become aware of my super rating, I have learned to be careful not to lead people on.
I now knew how much people like me, but I wanted to know exactly why. What if it’s just because I’m handsome? Or it’s because of pheromones? Or something else that means I can try even less? I called Arun Sundararajan, an NYU business-school professor and the author of new book The Sharing Economy. “A near perfect rating means you were consistently pleasant, civil, conversational, polite to the wide range of individuals who gave you your Uber rides,” he said, “even when you were busy, distracted, late or stressed.” I do not know why Sundararajan thinks a person gets busy, distracted or stressed when their job is to write a one-page column. But I think it’s that inability to empathize that makes him a 4.33.
My lovely wife Cassandra overheard me mentioning my 4.97 while I was telling her how lucky she is to be married to such a good person. She, however, saw it differently. “You’re more of a people pleaser than you are a good person,” she said. “When we go out to a restaurant, you make such an effort to talk to the waitstaff, you become a burden to them. Stop asking them about their kid! They have a job to do, and you’re slowing them down.” Admittedly, Zhirayr missed our highway exit when I asked him about emigrating from St. Petersburg to Armenia during perestroika, but he still gave me five stars.
Cassandra told me she gets exhausted after riding with me in an Uber, since she feels bombarded by the chaotic experiences I draw out of our drivers. Two weeks ago, after a flight was delayed overnight, she was about to ask me not to talk to our driver, but wasn’t sure I could do it. “Luckily,” she said, “I shut the conversation down because that guy was so annoying. He said, ‘You need to have another kid because your son would be so lonely.’ Ugh!” Now I know how I lost that 0.03.
I had seen Gregory Cason, a Beverly Hills psychologist who had been on Bravo’s LA Shrinks, to talk about my lack of assertiveness. So I called him to ask if my 4.97 indicates I am simply people-pleasing. He said my score displays my conscientiousness, one of the traits people find most desirable. “It’s the adult Boy Scout personality trait. You’re polite, kind, courteous,” he said. “The problem with conscientiousness is it sometimes gets in the way of assertiveness.” He said this in a way that was kind, helpful and totally compatible with a guy who is just a 4.91.
I realize that sometimes, if I need to make a phone call or suggest an alternate route, I may have to risk getting a 4. But most of the time, I’m going to suggest that Cassandra and I get separate cars and meet up at home.
This appears in the September 12, 2016 issue of TIME.
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