My wife and I were visiting Prague a few years ago. We had a very exciting day of wandering through the city, and in the evening we stayed at our room listening to some cool stuff. Tim O’Reilly has just published his “WTF? What’s the Future and Why It’s Up to Us” book, and we were listening to an interview about it. One of the quotes he mentioned was from Hal Varian, also know as the Varian Rule:
A simple way to forecast the future is to look at what rich people have today; middle-income people will have something equivalent in 10 years, and poor people will have it in an additional decade.
This idea has hit me just in the right moment. I immediately noticed that I’m listening to this incredible human wisdom sitting in a very comfortable armchair, in an apartment that I’ve airbnb-ed from someone I’ve met just 3 hours ago (yet I somehow trust them), after a day of cleverly navigating through a foreign city and seeing the coolest places (like if I’ve been living here for ages), eating at the best (by the opinion of a majority) restaurants, understanding what the signs in a foreign language were saying — all without knowing anything or anyone in the city!
Take me a century back, and to achieve the same level of leisure I’d probably have to be incredibly wealthy, and not only in monetary terms but also in terms of a social capital and an amount of talent. How would I be able to stay at someone’s place without knowing them, or their friend? And this friendship would have to be maintained across international borders. How would I be able to know what most of this city’s natives think about this or that restaurant? I’d probably had to be quite famous so that these people would like to share their opinion with me. How would I be able to navigate through the neighbourhoods like a native? I’d probably have to hire an individual guide and pay them for the whole day of work.
I was enjoying the benefits that only a few wealthy ones could afford in the past, yet I paid a few hundreds for it.
I must mention I didn’t feel confident at all while doing these things. For example, I was eating the supposedly best burger in the whole city without my personal experience of trying all the other ones. In a sense you can say that I was guided (controlled) by my smartphone. Some people (users) have fed the system with data, other people (designers and engineers) have optimised the way I interact with it, and now it was making decisions for me where I’ll be drinking my cup of coffee, what I will be saying to people in a completely foreign language and where I’ll be sleeping that night.
As a side-effect, having experienced how worry-free it is to travel these days, I have a hard time to start planning our bicycle tour this year. I kind of have this habit already of letting someone else (or something else) to tell me what to do.