This is really a tale of taxis and trying not to arrive too early – but we’ll get to that later. Yesterday we had our first Forum Network event of the year – focusing on digital technologies and sustainability.
Change is happening around us – altering how we live, what we consume and what we value. But, it’s not necessarily enough of the ‘right’ change – you know, the sort of change we urgently need to make sure that the world is still comfortably viable for the 9 billion of our species that will want to use it in a few years’ time.
Digital technologies can do something about that. They can help us respond to the shifting challenges we face today, and can get us to a future which respects natural limits, uses resources wisely, offers everyone a fair and rewarding quality of life, and generally operates better than the shambles we’re in at the moment.
They help us to do this in two ways. Firstly, they give new people new information in new ways to make new decisions; and secondly, they allow people to pool their passions, skills and resources to evolve new collaborations and ways of living. The illustration above (courtesy of Fjord, the digital service design agency and our collaborators on this piece of work) captures how digital technologies can tackle the problems on the left hand side to enable the opportunities on the right-hand side.
You can find out more about our thinking of how digital technologies create change in complex systems in the thinkpiece – download via the link at the bottom of this blog.
Which brings me back to taxis. Because the problem with taxis is that they’re a resource which could be used better. Ed Dowding from Sustaination first brought this to the attention of the network attendees last night when he asked how many of them would be going back to Waterloo afterwards. Eight hands went up. That’s eight individuals who all knew that they’d each be leaving from the same place, at the same time, to go to the same destination, but who didn’t previously know about any of the others. But with this new information, they could now share two taxis between themselves – cutting costs and transport emissions per person in the process, and making new connections. Information & collaboration in action.
But then, set against this was the nagging fear that I heard from Zac at CarbonDiem, and others that they, and their digital sustainability solutions, had maybe arrived too early. That in the room yesterday there was huge drive, passion, and the digital tools to do things differently but that most people still didn’t want them. And the question then was – when would people want them? Would they ever? How do you drive demand for sustainable technologies with proven cost and convenience and quality results in the face of such crushing apathy and inaction?
Carmel McQuaid from Marks and Spencer reiterated this problem with a return to the Taxi theme when she pointed out that many people routinely queue for cabs after getting off the train, resolutely refusing to collaborate and save themselves cash by sharing fares. Despite the fact that it would be so easy – all they have to do is talk, or use an easily created travel app instead.
So, for me, the event did what all good events should. It inspired me with amazing examples of whats possible right now when intelligent and committed people at organisations like CarbonDiem, EnergyDeck, Evrythng, Mastodon C, Superflux, Sustaination and Technology Will Save Us pour their enthusiasm into the big challenges that we face. But it also left me with questions that we’re going to be working on over the next year about how to use digital tools to sometimes give people what they need before they know they want it.
And at the end of the night I took the train back to Bristol, where I stood for a long time in a cold taxi queue before one brave soul piped-up & we shared a ride back to almost exactly the same place. So maybe there is hope after all.
If you’d like to be involved, and to help us with the big opportunities we’re looking for, and the big questions we’re tackling, get in touch. Contact James Taplin.