Michele and I have sort of slipped into the habit of using Google – and Apple on the other phone, and, sometimes, Waze – to show us the fastest route on even the shortest of trips, especially when it is rush hour (rush four hours?). At first, the results were a little surprising like when Google told us to go surface when we were driving up Highway 880 to Berkeley from the San Mateo Bridge – I didn’t and Google was right and we got stopped in an East Bay traffic jam – then the results became routine as Google routed us off the freeway and through residential neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Now, when freeway traffic is heavy and Google provides an alternative surface route, cars start to back up at the off-ramp and we follow three or four cars – with cars behind us – through a residential area or along a county road.
All of a sudden a quiet residential street can become somebody’s – lots of somebodies’ – fastest way home and that home may be twenty or thirty or forty miles away. Now, everybody has local knowledge and the real locals are starting to react. Some, especially in rich neighborhoods, are starting to petition their City and Town Councils to have one end of their streets blocked off. It seems that the best way for us to get somewhere is often not in the best interest of the people living in places that are on the way to that somewhere. The world has changed in a major way and the institutional antibodies are starting to kick in.
As an aside, I’ve heard somewhere that “medicine is not revolutionary; sanitation is revolutionary” is a Che quote and I have cheerfully quoted it ever since. Now I can’t find it on Google and I am starting to have my doubts so I’ll say Misquoting an alleged Che quote, ‘Computers are not revolutionary; smartPhones are revolutionary,’. Several years ago, Michele and I were walking through the outskirts of a rural village near Yangshuo – China – when a group of school kids appeared ahead of us on the trail. I’ve been in this situation dozens of times, kids in a dirt-road-poor village asking for pencils or candy, but these kids just waved and took pictures of us with their smartPhones. As an aside to the aside, when we were in China, we were offered iPhone knockoffs in about four flavors, the cheapest was just a phone and camera and the most expensive did everything a real iPhone could do. End aside to the aside. All over what we used to call the Third World people who have never had a landline phone or, even, electricity, are getting smartPhones. In rural Africa, places that have been off the grid for 10,000 years, people are getting solar cells for their roofs. In many cases, they are not powerful enough to run a refrigerator but they can run a signal light bulb and a cell phone charging port (if the family is rich enough, they can even get a small, cheap, low-power TV). With their cell phones, 15 million people in Kenya – using a Kenyan App, M-PESA – transfer money without walking to the nearest big village; with cell phones, farmers in India can now get weather forecasts; In Bangladesh, people look for and advertise jobs on CellBazaar; all over the world people are inventing their own Apps to fit their local conditions. According to The Economist, “Unesco pointed to data from the UN, which shows that of the seven billion people on earth, more than six billion now have access to a working mobile phone. ‘Collectively, mobile devices are the most ubiquitous information and communication technology in history….More to the point, they are plentiful in places where books are scarce.'” End of the aside.