In 1981, IBM chose the 8088 microprocessor as the “brain” of its first Personal Computer (PC). Made by Intel, the world’s largest integrated circuit manufacturer, the chip had a clock speed of just 2 MHz and a mere 64kb of memory. The personal computer era was just picking up speed as companies such as Apple and Microsoft helped introduce screens, keyboards and magnetic discs into offices and homes worldwide.
We were suddenly able to perform hundreds of calculations in fractions of a second, building electronic templates which spectacularly reduced working times and minimized errors. We started sending e-mails to everyone we ever met, attracted by the immediacy and ease of interaction with multiple parties at no apparent cost. It looked like the end of the line for envelopes and stamps.
The queue for the bank teller went out of fashion as the daring young things withdrew cash in seconds from ATMs without human interaction. Suited executives lugged 20 kg “portable” computers with their green phosphor screens (seemingly designed to increase visits to the eye doctor). Soon we all became reachable, wherever we were, as the first mobile phones gave an air of sophistication to the lucky few that could afford them. The dawn of the internet (at the end of the ’80s and in the early ’90s), which put everything at the disposal of everyone, was another great phenomenon that opened the doors to a digital world, just one keystroke away, changing (and continuing to change) the way we study, work, access content and interact with others.
All of these changes—which at the time amazed us but today wouldn’t surprise a five year-old—happened relatively quickly, arose from the need to do more and less, and spread through consumerisation and our collective and individual efforts to ride the wave of the future.
The pace of technology development has always outstripped our ability to understand it, assimilate it and adapt our behaviors to its positive impact. We are moving from a digital prehistoric age to an age of “Smart Cities” in a single generation, which is enabling us to reflect, based on our own experience, on the factors driving this change from an individual perspective.
When we talk about digital cities, e-government and smart citizens, we’re talking not just about future trends, super-modern metropolises in remote locations and cutting-edge cities with major investments in technology. We’re also talking about children who don’t understand what it means to waste water, students that can’t bear to wait for a bus without information, factories that need to consume less and reinvest in quality, companies which distinguish themselves from their rivals by anticipating trends and promoting new service and business models, demanding citizens who are involved and who want more information, visibility and a say in the services they pay for, politicians who want to lead (or at least not fall behind) in promoting and adopting novel comprehensive management models that respond to new and growing needs in their cities.
All of these organizational behaviors of governments, private companies and society as a whole arise from changes in perspective, behavior and personal attitudes. They come from people that dare to think outside the box, to progressively change their values scale, who observe and track with curiosity the positive changes around them, who are committed to the future through their children, who rack their brains in search of a new way of doing things, because doing them the same way as always is neither economically nor environmentally viable today. We’re talking about the people who don’t want to be left behind in a new world that’s progressing quickly and waits for no-one.
The various players in the modern city are looking for their space in a new ecosystem where one has to give and receive services which are increasingly integrated and to cooperate internally and externally to leverage enhanced citizen-friendly capabilities.
Smart models promote greater and increasingly necessary public-private partnerships and position the citizen in the epicenter of an ecosystem which is encouraged to change for the better, and to offer services which are superior, more transparent and less expensive.
As always, the role of information and communication technologies in their various, increasingly omnipresent formats, is not limited to capturing, sending, processing and presenting information to reflect reality; rather, their sophistication and potential seduces, invites and encourages us to think and act differently. Just like in the ’80s, it’s up to each of us to understand the context and the drivers of change in time and to apply technology with common sense and a bit of audacity that helps us maintain the pace required for a better future, which all of us have the privilege of building.