Friday, February 15, 2008

Not all progress is created equal

Isn’t it funny how life flies by, time speeds up and the world flashes and grows and advances and evolves and metomorphosizes right in front of our eyes, every second of every day. The blur of progression becomes that thing we are all subconsciously aware of, yet we can only make sense of if we sit back and consciously take stock.

Less than 5 years ago, the thought of watching a movie on your i-Pod, video calling your girlfriend whilst looking at your best friend from varsity’s new born baby on an application you just downloaded on Facebook just wasn’t plausible, let alone possible. Enabler technology such as ADSL, Bluetooth, BlackBerry which allows us to seamlessly communicate and network were more at home in science fiction world than in ours. We certainly didn’t have portable USB devices and the mass data storage capacity that we now blindly use to blur the lines between work and home.

The mind boggles at the advanced in terms of communications | interaction technology?

Yet somehow not all categories of technological advancement and innovation are created equal. Let’s consider for a moment the advancements we have made in the of transport industry, more specifically, our cars. Sure we now have car phones and GPS systems, as well as adaptive headlights, heated seats and rain-sensitive windscreen wipers.

Infinite safety features such as airbags, ABS and traction control, material that is lighter faster yet stronger. We have all the luxury we could possibly use at our fingertips, all the trimmings and modcans yet, at the core, have the fundamental systems advanced at all?

On June 15th 1957, the residents of Tulsa, Oklahoma buried a 1957 Plymouth Belvedere beneath a downtown sidewalk in front of the Tulsa County Courthouse. At the time Tulsa had more cars per capita than any U.S. city besides Los Angeles and a fierce rivalry with Oklahoma City. The time capsule stunt was meant as a way to celebrate the Tulsa's love of the automobile and one-up Oklahoma City. The time capsule was unearthed on 16 June 2007 and the car was to be given to whomever, in 1957, guessed closest to what the population of Tulsa would be in 2007. Should the person be deceased, the prize will be conferred to his/her heir. Unfortunately the time capsule was not sealed effectively and the “treasure” landed up being a rusted hunk of metal and will be restored to its former glory before being given away.

In theory, a fascinating experiment - The car was filled with all sorts of 1957 mementos, including a case of beers, a lady's purse, as well as photos and maps of the Tulsa area. 2 more “mementos” in the form of 10 gallons (about 37 litres) of petrol as well as 5 cans of engine oil were also buried with the treasure as organizers back in 1957 were concerned that cars would no longer have internal combusting engines by 2007.

Those most interesting thing to be unearthed in this whole exercise was not the car, but that apparent lack of technological advancement | implementation apparent in the fuelling sytems of the car industry ! Its not all absolute doom and gloom, some inroads have been made regarding the issue of environmental conservation and natural resources consumption, but not nearly as much as other industries and not close to what our automotive forefathers would have envisaged for the new millennium.

Some motor manufacturers should be applauded for their efforts in their quest to lower carbon emission levels and save our planet from an inevitable and literal melt down. Unfortunately, no date has yet been set on when these technologies will begin making a visible difference to our planet.

According to the research undertaken by the Strategic Analysis of Global Markets for Engine Technologies (Frost & Sullivan), 69% of vehicles globally will still run on petrol in 2015, and 26% will still use diesel fuel. Only one in 20 cars will be a hybrid, and even such vehicles are not completely “clean” as petrol would still be consumed. Consider further that China, in 2005, had 8 vehicles per thousand people, compared to Europe’s 584 cars and America’s staggering 940 cars per thousand people. The premise is that should China reach the European ratio, its roads would have 759 million vehicles, more than there are cars on the roads in the entire world today.

As consumers we sit somewhere along a continuum of innovation and technological progression, some categories surge ahead of us and leave us a little bewildered at their rate of advancement. They show us how things can be and provide a guiding light, bringing convenience, connection and efficiency far beyond what we thought to be possible. For those categories we play a game of catch up, learning to adapt and adjust to the world they create.

Then there are the laggard industries, where we as consumers are made slaves by lack of options, where our minds and demands and requirements are far beyond that of the industry. The problem is that the world and the communities that inhabit it can’t wait too long. Its is no longer a problem of how we can change, but rather when