Commuting Meets Technology

I'm finally out of the dark ages. I got an Android smartphone over the weekend and have since been in the process of exploring the Android apps market.  One thing I've immediately noticed is the really wide range of usefulness in the apps. For example, the WeatherBug app is fantastic. It automatically determines your location and gives you exact conditions for that location. On the other end of the spectrum, Google's Goggles app is supposed to be a type of 'visual search' where you snap of photo of something and Google searches for it. In each of my attempts to use it, the app hasn't returned any search results. I even took a photo of a bottle of Pepsi (figuring it as a common houseful item) and got nothing.

Somewhere in the middle is this app called Waze. Have a look at their 'guided tour':



Some people might look at it and comment on the amazing evolution of technology or on the incredible value of social networks. To me, Waze says something important about the culture of automobile commuting.

The usefulness of Waze decreases as your commute gets shorter. The longer the distance you drive, the more alternative routes there will be along the way, as well as the more opportunities to experience traffic problems. Even if I drove from my house to school (which I don't) there's really only one route I could take, because the distance is so short. There really isn't much that Waze could do to help me out. I think that's the irony. The easiest commute, regardless of technology, is still the shortest commute.

At the same time, I have to wonder about the safety implications of an app like this. Aside from the obvious fact that it encourages people to manipulate their phone while driving (the video does mention that you can't type, though), sending people on routes they're unfamiliar with may have its own unintended consequences. If I drove 30 miles on the route 101 every single day, I would get pretty comfortable with my commute. If this device was sending me on a different route every other day, I wouldn't know the correct lanes to drive in, whether there are red-light cameras at intersection, and other variables. Having a road full of people that don't really know where they are and are being guided by a cell phone in their hand seems like a recipe for disaster. 

More broadly, this app confirms that commuting really has become a very challenging activity; and it props up the dream that technology will save the day. I have a hard time believing it.

3 comments:

    Knowing which intersections have red light cameras could very easily have a strongly negative effect on safety.

     

    '...and it props up the dream that technology will save the day. I have a hard time believing it.'

    I can't guarantee that technology will save the day, but I can guarantee that nothing else will. Asimov wrote an excellent essay about this, which can be found in his collection Science Past -- Science Future (Chapter 1).

     

    I think the camera issue is a toss-up. If you know cameras are in the area, but not exactly where, that could have some adverse effects. If you don't know there are any, then you'd presumably drive like there aren't any.

    Thanks for the cite.