Category Archives: Mobility

Social Up: First efforts

Public (not social) transport

Two weeks after our goodbye at TEDActive and our plans to social up our mobility, I wanted to share my efforts so far:

As I was leaving Palm Springs towards LAX I posted an update on Facebook to offer a ride to anybody going my way. Gerardo Betancourt was on his way to LA with a bus, but we missed each other by just a few minutes. Learning: next time I should post my moves earlier.

On my way to London, I managed to sleep for 9 hours straight… the joys of a very intense week! As the plane was landing, I started chatting with a film director from New Zealand next to me, and we ended up sharing a cab to east London. Good one.

On my way to Paris in the Eurostar, I met a chatty Italian lawyer working in the city. Enjoyed a great football chat and ended up exchanging cards. You never know when you need a lawyer I guess. Good one, again!

Finally, as I was going to the airport to pick up my girlfriend last Saturday, I suffered all sorts of delays typical of public transport during weekends in London. For the next airport pickup, I checked Whipcar, the neighbour-to-neighbour car sharing site and there’s a lady close to home who owns a Peugeot 207 that I can borrow 4 hours for £20… Cheaper and more reliable. Good learning.

Still, I haven’t managed to have a chat with my neighbours (after 6 months, it feels a bit wierd to knock the door with a tortilla de patatas to say hello), nor succeeded to chat with anybody in the Tube, or the Bus (Londoners enter in trance when they walk in public transport..). Those will be my challenges for the next two weeks.

best wishes, Luis

“It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.”

Mobility means different things to different people. It can mean everything from communications, access to information, transportation of goods to the mobilization of governments and organizations through calls to action.

In order to narrow this scope, the brief for the purposes of the TEDActive Mobility project was taken to mean:-

How can we make the world even smaller, more accessible

Technology and communication have already done an amazing job of making the World smaller, more accessible. So in our look at mobility, we specifically turned our minds to transportation, especially in terms of people.

So how does one make the World smaller and more accessible from a human transportation point of view? We might conclude that we need to:-

1 Build faster planes
2 Double the width of highways
3 Restructure aging public transport infrastructure

But given we had a total of 4 days, and were tasked with producing an output of a “microaction” none of the above were considered particularly practical.

So the brainstorming, led by the inimitable Luis Cilimingras of IDEO London and Jerri Chou from Lovely Day, that followed over the 4 day period ultimately led to a lot of Post-it notes of small ideas, themes and stories related to the needs of people transporting themselves from A to B.

This type of brainstorming activity, between 10 or so people that have never met each other before, but having a commonality (the love of TED talks) itself was an interesting social process. When looking back at some of the Post-it note themes now, what is interesting to see is that almost all of them relate to some form of community or social ethos.

Sharing came up a lot. Luis started to speak about it on our blog and the conversation kept on going. One of the problems with the car sharing paradigm is that people can feel uncomfortable sharing their personal space, especially with a stranger. The antithesis of what “social” and “community” are meant to represent.

How do we solve that?

Despite the majority of our group being either technologists or in some way connected to technology, thoughts started to turn to the old-school philosophies of social and community – real people being connected in a very real way, person to person. Borrowing a cup of sugar from a neighbour or offering a ride to a hitch-hiker.

When we debated this, a sense of order started to fall out of the chaos of all these Post-it notes. In our quest to “make the World smaller”, and the advances in technology and communications over the last couple of decades, are we at risk of losing some valuable social skills? We can talk about systems like Facebook and Twitter, which are social in their nature of enabling human interactions, but what is the quality of those interactions? You can have a conversation or interaction with someone on the other side of the World, in 140 characters. That’s great, but is that really a quality interaction?

So maybe our quest of “making the World smaller” is flawed. As a race we have an incredibly rich and diverse tapestry of cultures which are born from the social interactions that we have and the communities that we create. Every culture has its unique identity, folklore, language and context. We think it unlikely that anyone will ever look back on a Twitter conversation that they had and feel the same way that they might about a story that was told to them by someone in person, with context, language, folklore and identity.

So we decided instead that we should celebrate the fact that the World is big. Rather than try and make it any smaller, and without the time or cash to make a supersonic passenger jet in 4 days, we concentrated our thoughts on themes that might improve the quality of mobility and not the speed of covering distance. Make people bigger.

Without this improvement in quality and in social and community interaction we believe the problem of otherwise great ideas like car sharing will never be fully solved. So the first step, in our conclusion, is to encourage people to engage with their local community. If you get to know your next door neighbour, how much more likely would it be that they will naturally offer you a lift next time they’re driving in your direction?

The distilled essence of our 4 days of brainstorming is the following:-

We encourage the TED community to “Social Up” and engage more with their local community. This can be as simple as getting to know your neighbour that you’ve lived next to for years but have never spoken to or getting together with a mate and taking a journey together on the subway. Make mobility a social experience.

We move because we need social interactions, should we start making our movement more social?

It is our belief that this is a critical first step to making concepts like car sharing a practical reality. As Greg Anderson put it:-

“It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey”.

By Dean Elwood

Social up your ride – in the next ten days

If we move to be social; how can we make our moves more social?

Here’s our microaction: SocialUp; make your transportation a social interaction

+Speak to your neighbours and get to know them better. Perhaps they work close to your office.

+Tweet out when you are going somewhere, or facebook your destination, so you can have a nice chat while at it.

+Speak to an stranger in public transport…

Get creative about how you do it, but we ask that you take at least one new action in the next 10 days. Then share your action with us using the tag #TEDActiveMOB #SocialUp and/or share your story with the TED community by emailing it to with SocialUp in the subject line.

Many thanks everybody for your help,


Further musings on Mobility: Day 3

I thought I might write a follow up post to the one from earlier today following some excellent and highly relevant TED talks, in particular from Bill Ford and Salman Khan.

Image via Google Images

Clearly Bill Ford is on to something. Having recently been in cities like Lagos and New Delhi, traffic is becoming a major impediment to mobility. Whilst I certainly agree with his thesis on “smart” roads and cars that talk to each other – as a solution to the growing traffic problem (and indeed a major contributor to pollution – my project colleague Luis Cilimingras gave an excellent TEDYOU talk on how driving slower than 30 miles per hour creates significant inefficiency from a fuel economy perspective), he did not dwell enough on the need for more efficient and widespread public transport. This is probably self serving but the reality is that we are in a world that will be 10 billion people in our own lifetime, the only way to create sustainable mobility is through mass transportation systems and not to encourage further use of cars on roads. You only need to see the effect of the metro in New Delhi and Bangkok to understand how important this is. The car industry needs to reinvent itself (in much of the same way that Nokia did by moving from pulp and paper production to mobile phones) as a purveyor of mass transportation systems promoting efficient, cheap and sustainable mass transit systems. Interestingly, Bill talked about the need for integrated payment systems for mass transit as a precursor to efficient systems (Octopus in HK and Oyster in London) – this touches another powerful point around the mobility of money and how important this is as a part of the wider debate.

As an aside, some of the geo-location services that Bill talked about are not only a reality but our very own project leaders is building a smartphone based application that uses geo-location to get car services in New York to find you rather than vice versa – this makes the entire process much more efficient.

The Salman Khan angle is probably slightly derivative (pardon the pun). If we can create a more efficient distance learning system that augments school systems, then it itself becomes a powerful aid to mobility by connecting peers and teachers across large distances. Salman’s own experience of tutoring his cousins from a distance demonstrated the effect of this. More systems like this will be powerful additions to the social aspect of mobility.

Please come by our workspace (if you are in Palm Springs) and contribute your thoughts to our cause, if you are not here, we welcome comments on the blog or twitter! (#TEDActiveMOB)

Udayan Goyal