Let’s be clear about the IoT (Internet of Things): The only constant is constant change and if you blink, you’ll probably miss something. The IoT has created so much opportunity to speed processes up. What’s more, there’s constant data at our fingertips, and people and machines are making rapid decisions based on this realtime data. And as the era of 5G dawns, everything’s about to get even faster.
As a society, we’re more connected, data-hungry, and efficient than ever before. But at what cost? Technology is also putting cities on the fast track. Perhaps we need to ask ourselves should we be preserving quality of life as urbanization causes our global cities to swell to unprecedented sizes?
Urbanization is the process by which large numbers of people become permanently concentrated in relatively small areas, forming cities.
The idea is that not only are more people expected to move to cities in the next few decades but there will also be more people in general. The United Nations expects global population to reach 9.8 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion in 2100. It seems like the only way we’re going to be able to support this population growth is by putting technology to work for us all.
For instance, the IoT can help us grow more food using fewer resources. It can help us monitor water quality, air quality, and pollution levels, and with this information we can make policies and decisions that support a healthy, livable earth.
The IoT can also help us provide healthcare to more people in more places. Automation is going to change the nature of work for future generations, and it will create new types of jobs.
Urbanization and the IoT are also going to affect transportation systems. The need for urban mobility services is going to grow, and we need to be thinking about how we’re going to get people from point a to point b. All of this sounds a little bit hectic.
What if technology didn’t just help us cope with more people but actually helped us thrive in urban environments, even as they grow in size and density? I’m not the only person who’s thinking along these lines.
There’s a movement called “Cittaslow” that started in 1999 with a mayor called Paolo Saturnini in Greve—a small town in Tuscany, Italy. The idea is that slow is better when it comes to quality of life in a city, and municipal services and solutions should support citizens’ ability to live life in an “easy and pleasant way.” Only cities with fewer than 50,000 residents can become official “slow cities” partnered with Cittaslow.
While at first blush you might discard the idea, I believe the idea is interesting and worth exploring for all cities. Consider this, “slow” isn’t really desirable in our society today, which thrives on fast food, fast fashion, automation, and efficient workflows. Even the word “slow” has a negative connotation to it.
But if we’re going to speed things up, let’s make sure we’re speeding them up for the right reasons. Are we making everything faster just so we can accomplish more in our extra time?
Or are we making everything faster so we can find more enjoyment in what we’re doing, or so that we can do it better? Consider for a moment automation. As we have already reported, automation in the workplace has the ability to allow employees to actually slow down their work. If we take the menial, repetitive tasks off humans’ plates, we have the ability to free them up to have more time to be more creative and collaborative. That means they can consider spending more time collaboratively and on critical thinking.
When we’re talking about cities, a smart city’s goal is to provide a space in which citizens can live their best lives. We want people to spend less time in traffic. The objective here is to have people contribute to society and find fulfillment while earning a living.
We want them to be safe and secure; we want them to breathe clean air and drink clean water and the list goes on and on.
Urbanization will bring many millions more people into global cities, and, therefore, we need to start talking about how technology can improve urban quality of life. It’s possible we need to shift our perspective.
Maybe we need to stop thinking about how tech can make everything better by making it faster and start thinking about how tech can make everything better by allowing people to slow down. Perhaps it’s all in the way we view technology that would make our lives better.
The Cittaslow certification requires a certain amount of tech. It also has a goal for renewable energy, public transport options and alternative mobility options, and wireless connectivity. There’s also non-tech requirements for parks and green areas, recycling programs, cycle paths, and street furniture.
Population growth and urbanization are going to require cities to think smart. Speed and connectivity often go hand-in-hand, and that’s a great thing.
But I don’t advocate technology for technology’s sake. We need to deploy purposeful solutions that keep the end goal in mind. For smart cities, the end goal is creating livable places where people can thrive. As I see it, we can leverage technology to make certain processes easier, reliable, and truly meaningful. In the end we will open up opportunities for better quality work and life. If next-gen urban transportation is smart, efficient, safe, and easy, maybe we can enjoy our commutes more.
If the jobs of tomorrow require less repetitive tasks, maybe we can spend more time working together to creatively solve business problems.
I would guess most of us are probably living a bit too fast, and this may be thanks in part to technology. Let’s find ways to use technology to connect in meaningful ways and not just more ways. Did we hear that? Use tech for good. With great technology comes great responsibility. I challenge each of you to look for ways to slow down.
It’s almost like challenging each of us to remember to call our mothers on Mother’s Day. Let’s do that too.