Connections make city life simpler
In this column, Monika has written a few great blog posts on city development and challenges for cities as they grow rapidly, and one of my posts discussed city dwellers based on an Ericsson ConsumerLab study not too long ago. So I decided to give a snapshot of today’s city life from my point of view.
For different reasons, I’ve had the opportunity to stay in Stockholm (my hometown), Berlin and Paris, over the past few weeks. Experiencing cities of this size with a smartphone at hand is so easy these days it almost takes the fun out of traveling! Gone are the days you had to take a taxi just to find the way. Gone are the days when you couldn’t figure out what was on the menu due to lack of language skills. Gone are the days when you had to find the tourist office (by taxi) to ask about the best sights to visit (usually by waving your hands frantically to overcome language difficulties), and buy an expensive guide book just to end up in long queues together with all the other tourists who forgot to pre-book their tickets.
Mobile networks have been around in Europe for more than 20 years now, and with today’s coverage, capacity and complementary Wi-Fi, you can expect to be connected basically all the time when in major European cities. As a result, patterns tend to change both for permanent residents and visitors.
Let me give you a few examples I’m sure you recognize:
- I have an appointment at 4pm at a location I have never been to before. At 3pm at the earliest, I start checking the route, using a map app, public-transport route planner, or maybe a taxi app to book a cab.
- Nothing planned for the evening and time on my hands. Check relevant tip-of-the-day sites, post a question to friends on Facebook or Kik, call the restaurant if a booking is needed, book a cinema ticket online, and the evening is planned. (If we’d like to meet other friends later, there will surely be more tips online.)
- I am driving in an unfamiliar neighborhood, and have no clue where to find a parking lot. My GPS tells me both where I am and where to find parking.
Discussing these experiences with my travel company as well as friends in Stockholm, I realized that surprisingly few of my friends use these sorts of services regularly while on the go. Most said they use their stationary computers at home for such services, but when out and about in the city it seems many are reluctant to use their phones. Some say they don’t feel comfortable using apps, some say it’s too expensive, and some say they’ve never really thought about it, because they are comfortable doing it the old non-digital way and they like talking to human beings.
I see the variety of my friends’ reactions as a fascinating reflection of the overall status of society and city life that we often talk about in this column. On the brink of the Networked Society, some are convinced and expect mobility, broadband and the cloud to be there for them all the time; some have started and do use the services when relevant but do not depend on them; and some are a bit more reluctant and want to see a clear benefit before joining in. A joint expectation, though, is that when we want the service – whether we are lost in the city, need ideas on what to do, or want to chat with a friend – we expect it to be there and to work.
Modern city life may not be entirely dependent on a good connection, and many mobile phone owners may not be advanced mobile data users yet, but we do expect connectivity to be there.
And going back to my own experience over the past few weeks, I can tell you that traveling is a lot easier with a connected smartphone in your hand.