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