Sometimes it seems like everything has to be ‘just in time’ or ‘on demand’.
Businesses don’t want to keep stock longer than they have to, so want to go for ‘just in time’ delivery to still deliver products ‘on demand’. Food is getting faster, but we want more choice ‘on demand’. Television is going ‘on demand’. We use our Internet bandwidth to send us a personalised schedule of programmes to watch when with a little planning and upfront preparation we could just catch it as it streams through the air. It is (currently at least) broadcast through the airwaves regardless of if we watch it or not – doesn’t it seem a little wasteful to then get it downloaded digitally using power, bandwidth, energy on a person-by-person basis?
But then that is kind of the point – people don’t do ‘up front’ anything anymore really. We like our cars, partly because we don’t have to attempt to plan a journey up front. In fact have you tried to negotiate you way around the complex mess that is the British rail system? Fine if you want to go somewhere on the same line as your town – but just try to even work out what lines you might need to get somewhere else – its very hard work. And forget attempting to browse to see if a short car or bus journey will take you cross country to a line that gets you somewhere more direct. No, for the most part the ‘system’ will suggest a 60 mile trip into a major city to change trains to bring you back those 60 miles, but passing within 10 of your original starting point.
There is the promise of a future integrated transport system. Or intelligent transport. Or smart cities and towns and smart cars (and I don’t mean those quirky cars branded ‘smart’ – I mean cars that talk to each other and the road network). There is the promise of an intelligent alarm clock that will know that your train is delayed by 10 minutes and so let you have an extra 10 minutes in bed, telling the coffee machine and water heater for the shower to adjust their timings accordingly.
There is the idea of fully intelligent and integrated transport systems, where buses, trains and road congestion is managed such that people pass through the system as efficiently as packets traversing computer networks. Of course, when timetables are planned by computers down to the minute, what happens when a key dependent node is delayed by a minute and a half?
We talk of intelligent software agents that will know what you like to read and collect and order the day’s news for you, so your time is spent only on the things it has worked out you think are important.
So in order to have a ‘just in time’ and ‘on demand’ society, something is scheduling, planning and organising everything to a high precision at an ever increasing macro level. It just won’t be people. People are forgetting how to plan.
Or at least how to plan for themselves. We hire ‘services’ to plan parties, weddings, meals, events. We use ‘on demand’ media to stop worrying about reading TV schedules in advance. We use ‘on demand’ films to not consider if we will watch a DVD enough to warrant purchasing a disk outright. We use online shopping when we decide we need to (or want to) to not bother planning a trip to the shops.
And much of our social communication is becoming ‘on demand’ too. In an era of mobile phones, there is much more ‘last minute’ decision making. Don’t know where to meet up? Txt when you arrive. Not sure where to eat? Use location based services to find a restaurant near your current location. Want an impromptu coffee? Just pop it up on Facebook and see if anyone turns up.
And messaging is going this way too. In times of (practically for many) limitless text messages, why bother thinking too hard about what you might need to say. One-word, non-thinking, ‘it’ll do’ answers are the norm. Take communicating with your teenager these days.
The ‘thinking ahead’ conversation:
- “Are you out tonight?”
- “Yes. Can I have a lift back? I’ll be at xyz and finished around 10pm”.
The actual conversation (each taking up a txt message):
- “Are you out tonight?”
- “How are you getting home?”
- “Can I have a lift?”
- “Where are you?”
- “What time will you be finished?”
Ok – actually, I lie – this is just teenagers and has been since time eternal. I remember responding in exactly the same way myself to my parents. The difference is each prompt and sentence costs another text.
Thinking ahead? Who needs it. Messaging and communications bandwidth are plentiful.