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Can you survive without the blue dot?

Or has the digital world has replaced our brain

Have we become totally incompetent? Are we now at the stage where we are unable to do even simple tasks like reading a map or ordering a coffee? The physical world has become increasingly reliant on the digital one. So much so, that when the technology doesn’t quite work as we expect it to, things fall apart; we just don’t know how to function or how to get by without the help of the computer.

I want to tell you about someone I encountered recently in the London Underground. Perhaps you can see yourself in him, maybe it’s your children, but one thing’s for sure, it’ll soon be your customers.

“Why’s this tube map not connecting to my phone?” asked the late-twenties man that we came across that day. He had his own look, not a clichéd look my colleague and myself both noted afterwards but the pairing of the smart jacket and shabby-chic jeans was deliberate, and the neck scarf reflected his need to be seen as ‘laid back’.

“We’re underground; it’s the tube, it’s a poster” I blurted, feeling very ‘baby boomer’. I mean, for goodness sake, it was the same old tube map that’s been on the walls since I can remember.

“I need to find my way to this address, I’ve got a meeting, and I’m late, I have a presentation to do!” He was flustered. He was not, despite the scarf, laid back. Open on his mobile device was ‘maps’ and the blue dot was blinking, showing him an over-ground route to the address. Except he was waiting for the app to connect to the poster to tell him which train to take because there was no signal. If we didn’t help, he’d never get to do his presentation.

And then it hit me, “You know what mate, it should connect shouldn’t it. Sadly, I have to tell you that TfL don’t make that kind of investment.” I felt more Gen Z than my age all of a sudden – he had a point. “However, now you’ve pointed it out, and given that their purpose, aside from making money from commuters, should be to make our journeys as efficient as possible, that piece of information on the wall should be talking intelligently to your phone”.

OK, I did not say the last bit. My colleague, more usefully, told him which tube line to take and pointed out that if he didn't have the right phone network, there was Wi-Fi.

Nonetheless, I felt pretty good, excited even. What if all public way-finding spots could interact with your phone to tell you which bus, which train, which tram to get on? In fact, where has he been, or where is he from, to automatically expect that kind of interaction because he’s right, isn’t he? Surely by now, all that stuff should just be there on our mobile devices ready to go when we need it?

Until the last decade or so, digital intelligence has been an added bonus, something that’s great to have but not always necessary. My encounter with the blue dot man has changed my view on that entirely. Times are changing, and if we’re not agile and ready, we’ll all be left behind.

Author: Stephen Page

18th September 2019

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Page & Page

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Tubridge Wells
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