Being dumb in a smart city

Nowadays everything is smart. Your car, your phone and even your tootbrush. And you are also living in a city that becomes smarter by the day. They are smart and all talk to each other thanks to The Internet of Things.

Here is the problem with that: everything is getting smart but it does not mean everyone is getting smart(er).

Not everyone has a smartphone, not everyone knows how to access the internet and some of us don’t know how to drive. That’s nothing to be ashamed off. Not at all.

But the truth is that you are missing a lot of what’s happening. You are looking at a disprutive movement and have no clue what it is about. You can’t benefit the advantages. That’s not fair.

I was aware of this. But to be honest, I didn’t realize it was that hard for some people to deal with those daily challenges. For every smart opportunity, there is a complicated reality behind it.

A Dutch writer Thomas Smolders wrote an interesting book about it: Behind The Screens (it’s in Dutch so I translated the title for you) and triggered me.

Through talks with people around him, the main charachter of the book discovers the way other people deal with technology in their lives. There as some thoughts and facts I picked up, mainly about the Belgian population:

  • Half of the people can’t do online banking
  • One out of five can’t send an e-mail
  • A notification on your phone gives you the same physical stimulus as falling in love which means notifications are addictive and reduces the need for love
  • We can only maintain a relationship with 150 people, but we all have more ‘friends’ on Facebook
  • And 99.5% of the people of Facebook never post something so don’t say that Facebook is a blueprint of your environment
  • Libraries are being replaced by the internet but closing libraries is a bad idea because for many people it’s the (only) place where the can use a computer
  • 65% of the kids on school will have a job that doesn’t excist today

The fact is that technological innovations impact the social changes but the last one isn’t growing as fast as the first one.

There are more disturbing trends.

86% of the people in Belgium have access to the internet. I would like to add the word ‘only’ to the previous sentence. But nevertheless the government aims that all transactions with them will be digital by 2020.

We call this digital illiteracy:

Digital literacy is the set of competencies required for full participation in a knowledge society. It includes knowledge, skills, and behaviors involving the effective use of digital devices such as smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktop PCs for purposes of communication, expression, collaboration and advocacy. While digital literacy initially focused on digital skills and stand-alone computers, the focus has shifted from stand-alone to network devices including the Internet and social media.

Almost one third doesn’t know how to consult the online timetables of public transport but you pay € 1.2 more when you buy a ticket directly from the busdriver. Not fair if you ask me.

And when you read that Facebook and Google are trying to spread internet across the globe, that sounds very noble. It’s a nice package: bring internet to all the people of the world:

As Google works to expand the Internet with its own flying drones and high-altitude balloons, Facebook is fashioning all sorts of contraptions to spread online access far and wide, including new wireless antennas, lasers, and satellites. In the process, both companies are furthering their own ends. If they expand the Internet’s reach, they expand the reach of Google and Facebook. But they’re also helping the world communicate, which is why this short flight over the Arizona dedert is so important. By Facebook’s estimates, about 1.6 billion people live in areas that don’t offer mobile broadband.

But the reason behind their missionary ambitions is that the more people can access the internet, the more people can use Facebook and Google, thus the more Facebook and Google can earn.

Pioneering spirit for the sake of the money. It’s not that they are bandits.

Facebook and Google are one of the most influential companies of the world. They shape our society and in their way make it more understandable and smarter. Or complicated sometimes.

In the 17th century you had a similar happening with The Dutch East India Company in The Netherlands with Amsterdam as the beating hart during the Dutch Golden Age.

Last year I went to Amsterdam on a city trip and bought this book:

banner amsterdam(1)

A year later I finally found the time to read it (maybe I’ll write a blogpost about it) and I love it. It’s telling the story of a lively city that shaped the world through the ages.

In this book I read about the Dutch East India Company and the author is claiming that no other company may have influenced the world like this company. A nice statement nowadays in a world with hot start-ups that also are claiming they will change the world and more blabla.

But when you read more about it, you get more and more convinced that the author has a point. The Dutch East India Company also made the world smarter and went to places no one ever went before. The first multinational brought cultures together.

The link with this blogpost is a sentence I read in the book when it’s about The Dutch Golden Age:

The people in Amsterdam held the poor and the rich together when they build their ideal city in the 17th century. They all lived together and were not seperated by residential areas.

This was an exception. And also would be an exception today. It was possible because Amsterdam was, and is, one of the most liberal and freindly places in the world.

Cities tell stories and this book tells an inspiring one.

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