Can we settle on being smart enough?
I’m terribly excited about this new book, The Smart Enough City.
These topics are on my mind as I had a lovely chat yesterday with a PhD student from Carleton who asked about technology and cities and what if anything I thought about that because they’d recently been discussing these issues in a seminar and her head was evidently buzzing in all the right ways.
I love technology, I said. I’m going to visit Washington DC next week for a bit of touristing and I’m looking forward to seeing what has changed on that front since the last time I did the museums-and-memorials tour which, if memory serves, was 2016. In particular I want to play with my Uber app and see what services they have there that we don’t here. And maybe check out bike- or scooter-sharing services. Last time I was there the great new technological improvement I noticed was that you could scan your phone at the Smithsonian and be directed to some webpage or other describing the exhibit you were standing in front of.
I love being able to punch a rough destination in Google Maps and get suggestions of things to do around it. I very much enjoy traffic apps updated in real time because learning about an accident once you’re trapped between exits on the freeway just isn’t cool. Transit apps that let you know when the next subway train to your destination is? Lovely. Seeing countless ads for weighted blankets on Facebook because I googled them once three weeks ago? Less cool, bordering on the creepy.
What we need is to find a right balance between convenience and privacy, which we haven’t so far I don’t think. But ultimately, I said, data-driven policy of the kind advocated by the technology keensters shouldn’t take up too much space in our collective decision-making toolkit because — and this is the important point — humans are not rational robots. Humans are emotional funky beings with weird hairdos who take malicious pleasure sometimes coming up with crazy ideas we all love, ideas no dataset could have predicted.
Technology is a great tool. But we should never lose sight of the fact that it is only that — a tool.