Monday, June 23, 2008

Get lost? I don’t think so

To paraphrase, there is a time to be lost and a time to know where you are. Today’s technology makes getting lost much harder than ever before. We’ve all heard how ‘they’ can track us via email, credit cards and CCTV, but there is another dimension to the new detailed knowledge of place. With great inventions like GPS you not only know exactly where you are, you can go get lost with impunity. Just punch in a place you want to go and bingo, there’s the map and there’s Brad or Sue or whoever telling you to ‘turn right’. Doesn’t matter an iota that you have no idea where you actually are. The big thing is you know where you’re going and that you can always get back to where you started, or anywhere else for that matter.

This is where it gets murky. If we know where we are via smart technologies, there’s a good chance someone else will too. Apparently in the UK (now there’s a country where they really have a thing about knowing where people are – it has the most CCTV cameras per population of any country in the world), some university boffins tracked 100,000 mobile phone users to see where they were headed. Nowhere much it turned out. Most of the people tracked moved less than six miles and most of them returned to the same few places again and again. Why am I not surprised by this? The study concluded that its findings could help control the spread of pandemics or traffic jams. Hmmmm. Aren’t there more immediate uses? The mobile phone as our connector to local services and attractions becomes a lot more realistic once we realize how regular the patterns are we follow. Insight into what people desire can spring from understanding of what they actually do. From insight to foresight accelerated by paradox. Maybe as our access to virtual worlds unbounded by geography grows, we’ll keep even closer to the physical world we inhabit with our friends and families. Let the mobile phones loose!