Future of Transport as much Why as Where

When looking at how transit will change in the future we tend to think of self-driving cars (soon to be just called cars) or bullet trains (or maybe a few of us still harbor dreams of jet propulsion sneakers). But the reality isn’t as clear as these simple technology stories seem.

These stories go something like:

Cool technology struggles to become practical, gain acceptance, and then takes over the world.

But the future of moving around is as much about why you want to go somewhere as where you want to go. For example, if you’re only going because you need to buy groceries, at some point it becomes easier to just bring the groceries to you. Or if you need to meet a friend or business associate, it may be more viable to either hold a teleconversation or to meet-in-the-middle.

Of course, we already do meet halfway, and Skype and similar systems are already widely used. But in the future you might be having that conversation while you’re going somewhere else. Or you might meet your friend who is already on the train by side-boarding without the train stopping.

All of this will make destinations and journeys start to blur a bit. Where you are stops mattering as much. Unlike commutes of today, where time to destination is so important, tomorrow it won’t matter as much if you take your sweet time to get somewhere. Being late won’t hold the same sort of stigma, because being somewhere becomes less a matter of physical presence.

Being there in the decades to come will be about awareness, and thus physical presence will be increasingly devalued. That’s not to say people won’t make the trip. It’s just where they go will be more about the why. Instead of being at the meeting, they’ll go to their kid’s game (which might be a video game). They can catch the meeting on the way.

That is, the why of meeting is shared awareness, not shared breathing space. In these early days of technology, physical presence often helps ensure awareness (more or less). But in the long view, attention can be held without sitting around a conference table. The why is more important than the where.

How will it work practically? Will you get in a cab and say, “take me to the Fùchūn Teahouse?” Or will you say, “take me to a Chinese restaurant with at least 70% rating?” Or maybe you won’t get in a cab, but you’ll order food. Nah, you’re in the mood for a dining experience. But maybe you’ll order food, delivered to a dining area that doesn’t actually have food prep. Maybe it will specialize in ambiance, the experience of a shared space, and the food is your responsibility. After all, maybe you want to eat Sugar Orbs cereal in a Chinese dining atmosphere. That’s your choice.