The Smart Commuters


Let’s travel back in time for a moment. We are in the ‘60s, we have the possibility, questionnaire at hand, to ask the passersby, citizens of the ‘60s, how do they imagine the forms of transport of the future, in fifty years or so, let’s say in 2016.
We are sure that a large part of the respondents will answer positively, proposing “futuristic” situations, in line with the science-fiction movies of the period, in the wake of the enthusiasm due to the race towards the conquest of space. To strengthen the optimistic and positive opinion on the progress of “the citizen from the ‘60s” we also have the recent diffusion of the household electrical appliances, technological tools that facilitate our life.
But, returning suddenly to our time in 2016, we realize that the things didn’t happen as imagined. The cars don’t fly, not even the skateboards like those in “Back to the future” movie, no teleportation, no flying eggs, no rocket ships parked in front of our house.
This strange premise of ours is build up by the numbers provided by ISTAT, the Italian National Institute of Statistics, in the study called “Gli spostamenti quotidiani per motivi di studio o lavoro” (“The daily commuting for study and business purposes”) issued in August 2014 with reference to 2011:

“They are almost 29 million (48,6% of the resident population) the persons who commute every day on business or for study purposes, over the last decade the number has increased of approximately 2,1 million.

And again:

“… the time serving to commuting has been extended. The quota of those people who spend up to 15 minutes has decreased considerably.”

The number of people who for work must “immerse” in traffic has increased and for many of them the travel times have been further extended. It is about persons who spend an important part of their lives travelling daily between their residence to work/education place and vice versa.
The structural measures aimed to improve the mobility in urban areas can be counted on the fingers of one hand, the cars have been enriched with optional package, but basically they remained the same, the phenomenon of distance working has become smartworking, on the rise, but without reaching significant numbers yet.
Anyway technology came to the aid of the “commuters of the 21st century”, not in the manner we have hoped for, not optimising the transports nor reducing the travel times, but providing fruition’s tools and social connection, “smart” tools that may be connected to the internet even during the trip.

The quarterly report AudiWeb Trends of June 2014 describes an extremely “smart” Italy with 25 million people who declare to access to the Internet through a smartphone (+13,7% in the first semester 2014) and 9 million who declare to log on through tablet, nearly double compared to the previous year (+88%).
These tools have changed the commuter’s life allowing him to spend, at least in part, the time he wasted on commuting.

In Italy the percentage of “mid-range” commuters who uses internet during the travelling is around 60% (Ansa source). Of these, a large part uses their own “social network” mainly WhatsApp and Facebook, 42% surf the web, 31% make some video calls, 27% declare to use video streaming services (the same Ansa source).
During long-distance travelling, for instance by train or by plane, many travellers, especially the “usual” ones, the “long-range” commuters, use their own laptop, tablet, e-reader or smartphone to work, see a movie, listen to some music, read a book or a recipe, plan a trip, check the weather, read the latest news and so on. The percentage of people who use the internet is really high among the “long-range” commuters, both for the ability to use modern tools of communication, indispensable in working environment, as for a greater financial means when purchasing services or subscriptions on-demand.
All we have to do is getting on a plane or a high-speed train to come across many cybernauts, sat side by side, sometimes in rather narrow spaces, completely indifferent to each other, each of them staring on their own display. There are those who are laughing up their sleeves, those who get excited in a debate regarding work, those who seem hypnotized, totally captured by the images coming from their own display. The “smart-commuter”, especially the “long-range” one lives in his “virtual bubble” during the travelling…

The “Smart Commuters” phenomenon is significant in both cases, short or long-range, whatever the types of diploma or financial means or skills and personal interest.
This symbiosis between commuter and web, and “smart-devices” is based on:

  • a structural deficit present in the real world, or rather the impossibility to reach in a short time the desired place.
  • the need to make up for lost time, the hours of one’s own day that get lost in commuting.
  • the need to be protagonists of one’s own social space, to share one’s own opinion even on trivial matters or the latest news.

The strength of the Internet stays precisely in its availability, openness, in succeeding to provide a ubiquitous service, while travelling. The ubiquity, the achievement of being reached in motion, is perhaps the characteristic what most distinguishes Internet from television, static and one-way tool par excellence, and because of this, less modern and of the moment.
The intensive use of smart devices by commuters should not be underestimated, we are dealing with a mass phenomenon that makes familiar these electronic devices, stimulates the digital reading, increases the relationships among people “located elsewhere”.
In conclusion, the urban commuting helps spreading the Internet within our society.
Once again we have to emphasize in our articles, how the internet gains momentum where the real world is lacking, where, in absence of concrete solutions, or where there have been no intention to find any, the internet offers new virtual ways of communication and entertainment.


Estimote Stickers and the crumbs 2.0 of Tom Thumb

beaconsUp until now, our connection with internet has been active and receptive: we are the ones who decide when to connect, what to look for, whom to contact or simply when to check the news. We are active resources who use a global virtual system.
Internet is, from the interactive point of view, similar to our home phone. We contact or decide to answer to stimuli coming from other contacts, an autopoietic system whose confines have definite limits. It is necessary to use a device, an electronic device to be connected to internet, otherwise you cannot enter.
At the beginning such connection was possible only through a personal computer, a tool which still requires today, waiting times for power on and network connection. Subsequently, other devices came on the market, more immediate, such as smartphones and tablets, which can be activated in an instant and can be carried around in the pocket or purse allowing us to be often connected online during the day as many times as we want.
These devices represent only the first step to innovation, in the years to come new tools will permit us to mix, more and more, the real world with the cyber space.
The first tools which belong to this new generation are the already mentioned glasses. These glasses will increase our perception of reality adding helpful information such as: road signs, traffic data, medical information, other cybernauts’ comments on the restaurant or the hotel which we are interested in, danger alert or just the presence of one of our friends taking a walk in the vicinity and so on…
The reality will soon become a composition of real and virtual stimuli and situations.
The technology Bluetooth Smart or its natural evolution, it does not matter, will facilitate this interchange of information between our two universes, the real one and the virtual one.
In every shopping center, municipal office, school, library, coffee bar, cinema, etc, we will easily find small tools not only in condition to reveal our position GPS but also in condition to give us, immediately and consequently, potentially useful information.
The devices which have fulfilled this function up till now are the so-called iBeacon. The iBeacons are already active in all the American Apple stores; they are equipped to send to our own smart phone information concerning the device next to us, a kind of virtual salesclerk always to our disposal capable of explaining us the characteristics of the object of our interest.
Their use is even more important, although on an experimental basis, in San Francisco airport, in this case, the detectors intercept the passenger’s position and suggest to the blind and partially-sighted persons the direction to follow and the gate to reach, through the “VoiceOver” reader.
There are analogous experimentations in action or in progress among other international airports as well as in some subways, such as the one of London.
In short, a real tool, a small detector, crosses virtual lines with our (real) steps in order to provide us in real time (virtual) information on the surrounding real world. Obviously the promiscuity between real and virtual makes thinner and thinner the boundary between the two universes.
It is no coincidence that the literary translation of the term “beacon” it is “lighthouse”, because of the potential light that these tools can throw illuminating some aspects of our daily life.
This new technology reveals itself rather economical both in terms of installation and activation, around 20 dollars per location, as well as in terms of energetic consumptions for the devices that receive the information, for the time being smartphones and tablets, in the future smartwatches, digital glasses and who knows what else.
The last frontier is that of the “Estimote Stickers“, small sticky beacons, almost imperceptible which can be placed anywhere in order to allow the construction of uncountable virtual paths, unlimited situations in which our smartphones, smartwatches, google glasses,… receive additional information from internet.
The telepass, the ATM, the GPS receiver, the road signs on the highway, are all the precursors of this new symbiotic generation of tools. A surplus of digital information in a position to follow us step by step which is to be added to our social network. System that for some years already mixes real friendships with virtual friends met online.
Will we succeed in gaining from this jungle of virtual information?
Providing today useful information to blind persons is certainly an excellent result. Contrariwise, it is more difficult to hypothesize the effects of this bombardment of digital information on the next generations. There is a possible risk after all, useless to deny it, and that is ending up focusing a great part of our attention on digital contents, distracting it from concrete natural events.
But what I am sure of is that this technology will make enormous strides in the coming years because stimulated by the trading world which sees in the possibility of monitoring closely the consumer/user, the best way to incentivize a purchase.
We will become many Tom Thumbs 2.0 and in the deep forest we will switch on our smartphones and, thanks to the estimotes stickers positioned on every tree, we will easily find our way back home…