17 March 2009

The Future is Now

I can't get over how often I feel like I'm living in the future. There are two major components: portable computing and public transportation. Let me explain.

I'm currently sitting on a platform waiting for a suburban train to take me back to Paris from an English lesson in the suburbs. (Now I'm on the train.) I had to wait ten minutes, and how the entire trip (train, metro, a bit of walking) back to the house in Paris will take about 45 minutes more. If I had a car, I probably could have done the entire trip in 25 minute.

At first glance, it sounds like a car might be a better deal, but we have to consider the costs. I'd have to pay not only for the gas that I'd use during the trip but also the assurance and any interest on a car loan that I would pay regardless of my use of the vehicle. That starts to get expensive. Then we can add in the external costs which include environmental degradation, contribution to global warming, noise pollution along the streets, ect... It starts to look like less of a good deal.

Now we add in the game changer: mobile computing. I'm typing on my Dell Mini 12, a lightweigt, relatively low-powered notebook that you can get for about $400. Before I started typing this post, I was reading and responding to my email, consulting my calendar, and reading my favorite news sites and blogs. All of this without any connection to the internet thanks to the offline features that Google has added to Gmail, Google Calendar and Google Reader. Since I can turn off my wireless radios battery capacity isn't a problem, even with the lightweight 3-cell battery.

The result of this combination is that, although the trip with the clean (environmentally that is, there is a nasty stain on the floor at my feet) and efficient public transportation takes longer, I come out ahead time-wise because only about 15 minutes (when I'm walking) is true down time when I can't work (though I am getting a bit of exercise).

Now, there are certainly some caveats. A lot of people live in places without public transit, rendering this plan impossible. You could contact your elected officials and campaign for better transit systems, but many areas simply lack the necessary density to make the systems workable. Also, it's not as if I could do this every time I take the metro or the train. On some lines at some times of the day, it's simply too crowded to sit and I'm not about to be that guy balancing his laptop on one hand, navigating with the other (though I apparently have no qualms about being that guy with the computer on his lap in the metro).

But, given the right conditions and the right material, pretty nifty things can be done with existing technology. Don't wait for the future, live it now!

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