Thursday, November 28, 2013

What if the world went fully digital?

If the world went properly fully digital then we wouldn't have this...
During our travels we have met many people, which of course is one of the reasons to travel in the first place. Remarkable people, people that live totally different lifestyles, people from different cultures and people with different ideas. One of those persons we met was Zach Settewongse, a self confessed 'bit of a geek'… He told us very convincingly about Google Glass. I've always been somewhat reluctant with Google, which is ironic as this blog is on Google, but I could see his point. If I understood him correctly Google Glass is a pair of spectacles without glass, just the rim. Under the rim is a miniature laser that project an image in your eye, any image; even direct from the web. Whether or not that will have long term effects on your eyes is beyond my field of expertise of course, but let's leave that out of the discussion for now. If it works, what could we do with that technology from a travelling point of view?

At the moment, not a lot. For this technology to function we need a proper functioning internet. The problem with the internet we have now is that it's controlled by too many commercial companies which have conflicting interests. Internet, labelled as the digital highway, should indeed been seen as a highway and be free to use. As we live in a world that is becoming more and more aware that pollution is going to destroy us in one form or another, it would be logical to think that governments would embrace any form of technology that reduces the amount of traffic we have on the roads today. Fast, free and unlimited internet could do that. In reality governments do very little, because their income is partially generated by the taxes it levies on fossil fuels.
The other problem with the current internet is that unlike the old fashioned highway, the modern digital highway stops at the border and becomes a very expensive toll-road. As soon as you cross the border you enter into, what the service providers call, international roaming. Suddenly you are faced with absurd per minute charges. You may also find that the speed at which your digital helpers are going slows down to crawling pace, meaning you'll be online longer and costs thus increase even further. The only way for the digital highway to function properly and give us high speed and unlimited wireless access is to take the commercial aspect out of it.

Let's for the moment step aside these problems as well and have a look at what we could do with a proper, fast, wireless world wide web and something like Google Glass when travelling. A major hassle with travelling is the paperwork involved with crossing borders. You won't believe the paperwork we need to carry with us to cross some of the borders we go through, all 3x of course and all both original and a photocopy. Not just for ourselves but also for the motorcycles, the insurances etc. If only we could have all this in Cloud storage with a wireless internet that actually works and works worldwide… plus a general acceptance of digital documents… wouldn't that be nice! Simply being able to forward anything that's needed, wirelessly on demand…hmmm. Now we carry a ton of paper, can only hope we've got all that's needed with us and hope it will survive the constant hammering and vibrations we have on the road. 

Looking at a lady the other day, doing her work by making multiple copies, stamping them with a rubber stamp and stapling them together made me wonder where the progress was from 3 decades ago. She then started typing all the info from the photocopies in her computer to make it official… and filed all the copies and prints in her cabinet, I simply shook my head in disbelief. The only thing that was being achieved here was unnecessary work and multiple chances of error, the computer had only been added to an archaic way of working instead of replacing it. Wouldn't it be so much easier if everything had been available online and, more importantly, would have been accepted that way?

The only modernisation here is a digital camera...
Putting your whole identity on the web is of course risky. But so is carrying it all with you on paper. The chances of being robbed, loosing your wallet, the bike getting stolen with the paperwork in it (you can't possibly carry everything with you we need for this trip, so the panniers are the safest spot to keep them) or paperwork going missing or getting damaged is far greater than it getting stolen in a properly secured Cloud storage. You could of course make a backup to another Cloud storage as well. The implications of conventional paperwork getting stolen are far greater than Cloud theft too. Imagine being on the other side of the world and everything does get stolen from yourself or your bike... How do you prove who you are? How do you prove you actually had it in the first place? How do you prove you have a visa or entry permit? With Cloud storage and easy access to it you could download it. Proof of digital theft can be proven by the provider of the Cloud storage while the local police only has your word for it that you actually lost your passport. Passports are now printed in booklet form and issued to you, they need fingerprint identification build-in and all kinds of security measures. Yet they are still being falsified. You would think it would be easier to have that information stored at a secure Government Cloud system, coupled with a fingerprint scan. No need for 5 year updates and no more out of date photos either.
But even without Cloud storage fast unlimited internet that works everywhere would still be a great help. Simple things like being able to translate on-the-fly into any language we like. No more language barriers means being able to communicate with anyone and anywhere, whether right in front of you or thousands of miles away. 

Going through all the paperwork problems we've had the last couple of years made me realise just how much easier our life would be if there was a truly digital world. Instead of carrying stacks of paper documents around and have countless copies made, we could have simply forwarded them wirelessly to the relevant person; fully translated of course. We also could have asked for help, online and on the spot. It would have prevented all the unnecessary travelling back and forth through a congested city, which we have had to do the last couple of weeks, or trying to find a parking space in streets that were already double parked. In the supermarkets we would have been able to read what is on the label, instead of looking at pictures and guessing what it is. No need to spend hours on searching for products and services. We wouldn't have had any need for bank cards and thus not have them stuck in ATM machines. There would be no need for cash either, or different currencies. Visa's would become obsolete, passports no longer stolen but safely stored in Clouds and worried family could actually 'see' where you are. Struggling to find where to go for xyz, would be replaced with 'find xyz'… It sure would make travelling more fun, if only for less congestion when you actually want to go somewhere. 

No need anymore for a bewildering collection of stamps...
Some might say it would become a boring world. A world where we would all live like robots and where the unexpected is no longer there. I disagree. Being an old fart, according to my son, I still think it would be a great new world. If anything we would have more time for the unexpected as the archaic paperwork hassles wouldn't take up so much of our valuable time anymore. As for living like robots… why? Again we'd have more time to live our life the way we want to. You don't have to be 'online' all the time either, after all you can still switch it off whenever you want.
Of course some of this technology is available today. We have Cloud storage but it's so terribly slow that you can hardly call it mobile. You simply won't live long enough to be able to upload all your information with the current 'speeds'. Being able to access it wherever we are, as promised by the providers, isn't true either. Simply look at the various 'service coverage' maps of mobile signal providers to see how much of this world is still a 'no coverage' area. Add to that the horrendous costs and slow speeds; and we have something that's being portrayed as a Ferrari but in effect just a Yugo with a Ferrari price tag.

We can only hope that governments worldwide will step up. Just like they had to provide us with the conventional highways to be enable the country to flourish, they now have to do the same with the digital highways.