Faster than fairies, faster than witches

From a railway carriage – by Robert Louis Stevenson. A poem of its time, when the railways were amazing people with their speed (faster even than the supernatural) and at the same time democratising travel. We’re living in similar times today – my latest ‘card’ on CIAO is on geolocation / GPS which is one of those innovations that like train travel begins as a marvel and rapidly becomes the norm. I was visiting Seaton Delaval over the weekend and not only used my phone to direct me there but also realised that the National Trust app was showing me details of the nearest other properties and included Belsay Hall (English Heritage not National Trust).

All very well I hear you say but what’s the point. Well it occurred to me that so much of this data (like the application of Waze to satnavs) is happening without our really recognising what’s going on. We are just becoming very used to having contextual information provided as we move around – and increasingly expecting added value data to complement the central question we may have asked or is implicit. So we ask about local restaurants and burger bars and get not only the information but also which ones friends have liked or where we went to something similar recently. And all of this is changing our behaviour in some really subtle ways.

First, we no longer need to frame the right question – we can be much more lax about the key enquiry as our devices will supplement the answer with a raft of related information. Secondly, we don’t need to remember anything – our history (and our friends history) are increasingly available to us on our devices. Thirdly, all of this is in real time, so our need to organise in advance is also reduced. All of these might sound trivial but on a large scale they change how we think, how and what we remember and how we plan our days.

And, as I suggest on the ‘card’, all of this may be fine if we are all in the same boat but what about those without smart technology. As life evolves (especially with the advent of sensors and the internet of things) there will be an implicit assumption that everyone is sharing these behaviours, and all have access to smart devices. Over time of course this may be true (especially as technology becomes automated and less user triggered) but the interim is different. You only need to look at how many older cars are still on the road to see that not everyone can or will change at the same speed.