The App of Life
June 17, 2012 4:25 AM   Subscribe

"Thanks largely to smartphones, this is probably the best time ever to live in a packed city... Steve Jobs was a lifelong suburbanite, but it turns out he perfected the city." [google cache for those getting a log-in page.]
posted by nickrussell (87 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
"The perfect one-on-one urban encounter combines mating, education and business development over a cup of good coffee."

I've never mated like that before. Usually my encounters combine a look of surprise with disappointment.
posted by meows at 4:35 AM on June 17, 2012 [20 favorites]


I think things were pretty okay before mobile phones.
posted by Mezentian at 4:41 AM on June 17, 2012 [18 favorites]


They are lured by social networks. To be rural is to be isolated. You live in a village or suburb to have space, not to meet people. But cities create contacts.

I want to see the look on this guy's face when someone tells him that there are online social networks now. After all, he's impressed by the fact that someone could look up a bus schedule.
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:46 AM on June 17, 2012 [9 favorites]


“In a dense city you have these two-minute chance encounters that make your life richer. You and I have nothing in common, but maybe we meet and start Facebook together.”

What a melting pot we live in! Nothing in common at all and here we are, taking social media companies public together eight years later. I'm so glad I brought my phone to the convenience store that fateful day.
posted by michaelh at 4:50 AM on June 17, 2012 [8 favorites]


What on earth has Steve Jobs got to do with any of this. This is like crediting him with the invention of the telephone.
posted by Outlawyr at 4:51 AM on June 17, 2012 [27 favorites]


After all, he's impressed by the fact that someone could look up a bus schedule.

To be fair, I am surprised when I look up a bus schedule that the bus driver has also seen and acknowledged....
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:54 AM on June 17, 2012 [6 favorites]


I preferred when people would walk a packed city street and look at other people, the buildings, the environment, navigating an efficient pedestrian pathway.

Now people stare at their little screen. The arrive at a table or a bar and they're alone, they take out the little screen. Waiting for a bus, take out the little screen.

Difficult not to notice that there's an awful lot not being noticed anymore. Doesn't take a luddite to believe that this isn't necessarily an improvement.
posted by Hickeystudio at 4:57 AM on June 17, 2012 [56 favorites]


I live rurally, so I understand what he's saying about the chance encounters one can have in a densely populated environment, but more often now in cities I see people utterly absorbed by their phones rather than having any encounters.
posted by Red Loop at 4:58 AM on June 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


After all, he's impressed by the fact that someone could look up a bus schedule.

I will say this; it is a lot easier to be a tourist in major cities now that I have a phone that will help me get from point A to point B with a Maps app or Transit app, and that is especially comforting in an emergency situation in a new city.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 5:01 AM on June 17, 2012 [13 favorites]


Difficult not to notice that there's an awful lot not being noticed anymore. Doesn't take a luddite to believe that this isn't necessarily an improvement.

That point reminded me powerfully of a passage from "The Phantom Tollbooth," by Norton Juster:

“…the most important reason for going from one place to another is to see what’s in between, and they took great pleasure in doing just that. Then one day someone discovered that if you walked as fast as possible and looked at nothing but your shoes you would arrive at your destination much more quickly. Soon everyone was doing it. They all rushed down the avenues and hurried along the boulevards seeing nothing of the wonders and beauties of their city as they went.

No one paid any attention to how things looked, and as they moved faster and faster everything grew uglier and dirtier, and as everything grew uglier and dirtier they moved faster and faster, and at last a very strange thing began to happen. Because nobody cared, the city slowly began to disappear. Day by day the buildings grew fainter and fainter, and the streets faded away, until at last it was entirely invisible. There was nothing to see at all.”
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:05 AM on June 17, 2012 [58 favorites]


Greg Clark, the UK’s minister for cities, says the London bus finder app “actually makes the transport system hugely more effective”. Now we just need a good app to find parking spots. Clark sighs: “A lot of congestion comes literally from people driving around looking for a parking space.”

1. Beside each parking space include a meter which can indicate whether the space is vacant. The meter can also show the registration number of the car that has been assigned it.
2. Allow drivers to send a request saying where they would like to park and when. This could also take the form of "right now - as near as possible to my location". They might pay a fee at this point.
3. System looks for a matching space which is unoccupied. When it finds one it flashes up the registration number of the driver's car on its display - and it causes an indicator to flash up on the display saying that it is taken. Other cars who park in this space can be fined.
4. The driver is now directed to their space. The meter system can be used in the conventional way by drivers who can find a vacant parking space.
posted by rongorongo at 5:06 AM on June 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


I can't actually read the article with my smart phone, I just get an FT login screen.
posted by octothorpe at 5:08 AM on June 17, 2012 [6 favorites]


My wife and I moved to London just over a year ago for work. We were expecting to find it difficult - we've previously lived in smaller towns like Oxford and Brighton where almost everything was a short walk away. It's actually been a joy, for many of the reasons touched on in the article.

Getting around has been trivial, thanks to various bus and taxi apps (I've never had any trouble using the tube, but buses in London can be pretty baffling). Foursquare has proved essential - not so much for catching up with friends (though that has happened) but more because we can now pop up in any area of the city and we're guaranteed to find a good place to eat, based usually on where our friends go but sometimes just on the tips.

We've also discovered that the great joy of a city like London is exploring it - going on multi-hour walks through the city. With a map on a phone it's impossible to get lost, which means there's no reason not to explore side streets or just strike out in a random direction and see what we can find.

These same techniques have served us well in other cities we've travelled to. We were in Sydney, Australia last year and on the first night there we fired up Foursquare explore and found an amazing Malaysian restaurant (unexciting looking from the outside, aside from a long queue to get in) that several of our friends had previously visited. It was some of the best food we had on that trip. We just got back from a week in Istanbul where we had made almost zero plans in advance and again had an amazing time thanks in part to a data-enabled SIM card we picked up at the airport.

I'm totally sold on the premise of the article: my (post-iPhone era) phone has completely changed my relationship with cities, in a very positive way.
posted by simonw at 5:10 AM on June 17, 2012 [16 favorites]


After all, he's impressed by the fact that someone could look up a bus schedule.

I think he's referring to apps that use live bus tracking info (in London, TfL's iBus GPS system) to tell you when an actual bus will actually arrive, regardless of the schedule, or if it's running on time.

The ability to time when you leave the house (or work, or wherever) to get to the stop just when a bus arrives is a marvellous thing. Also in London, you quite often have more than one route that goes in the right direction but depart from different stops, and the better bus apps will not only tell you this but give you live info so you can judge which of the stops to go to.
posted by grahamparks at 5:14 AM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


3. System looks for a matching space which is unoccupied. When it finds one it flashes up the registration number of the driver's car on its display - and it causes an indicator to flash up on the display saying that it is taken. Other cars who park in this space can be fined.

No offence, but this is where both the existing and the logical technology system fail. People already get fined for parking in spots without paying, in front of fire hydrants, in loading zones and even in hospital restricted areas.

Most people's parking needs are immediate (i.e., I need a spot in front of a retail store in 15 minutes because I am headed there) and without a robust tow system in place, simply fining someone doesn't prevent their car from blocking a paid spot...so now you have someone who paid for something, didn't get it, and is now circling the block like every other person. That's the last time they'll use the app, I reckon.

There's also nothing to stop someone from logging in online and just feeding a meter all day, which in a number of cities is a big cause of parking shortages around businesses. In fact, it's now easier to do that because you don't have to leave your office every hour/two hours.

If fewer people who didn't need cars took them into the city, and if people didn't park illegally so much/feed meters, you might have a short-term parking system that worked. Unfortunately, the problem is behaviour for which fining people hasn't deterred.
posted by Rodrigo Lamaitre at 5:25 AM on June 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


This article is actually less coherent than Tree of Life.
posted by nathancaswell at 5:46 AM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Steve Jobs neither invented nor perfected the smart phone. He just made it easy for idiots to access them. The Iphone is to smartphones what Foxnews is to information.
posted by any major dude at 5:49 AM on June 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


[Okay, kind of funny considering the article topic, but the article isn't available from mobile devices, apparently. I've added a google cache link for anyone having trouble. And there's a pop-up about cookies that you'll need to close. On my tablet the little "x" for closing the window was being covered up by an image, so I had to reload the page and click the "x" very quickly before the image loaded. *shakes head at FT* ]
posted by taz at 5:51 AM on June 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Over the past decade, I have moved from Somerville (relatively urban city just north of Boston) to Arlington (true suburbia) to a rural town in MA. In my experience, the further from the city I've gone, the more I've gotten to know my neighbors, business-owners, and community. At 30, living on 2.3 acres of land in a farming community, I feel like I have more of a connection to the guys who own the local hardware store/community garden shop/etc. than I ever did living in a crowded urban area.

I'm not a luddite. I work in a high technology field, have a 35mbps connection from my "farmhouse", and regularly travel for work. However, the primary advantage all of that technology has brought to my life isn't a bus schedule on a 3" screen, it's the ability to live and work outside of the hustle and stress of urban Boston.
posted by ellF at 6:01 AM on June 17, 2012 [10 favorites]


I'll grant the SMS has revolutionized the socialite city lifestyle, but they're seriously old school. All these "check yourself in" applications sounds just horrible though, like "stalk me please".

I believe affluent European cities usually post electronic signs that report the next few busses' arrival times, along with the route maps. I'm know Lyon and Paris do this, all the bus stops I've used in Germany and Prague did this, probably all the ones I've used in Belgium, Switzerland, and Scandinavia had such electronic signs too. I suppose the U.K. only posts a bus timetable though. lol
posted by jeffburdges at 6:03 AM on June 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


In my city, urbanites never have to wait long for a bus or streetcar.

It's the suburbanites who wait forever - buses once an hour, buses that stop. And the suburbs are filled with poorer people who can't afford either to live near transit or own a car.
posted by jb at 6:05 AM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


that said, there is an awesome android app that doesn't just tell you the schedule - it tracks the buses by their transponders.
posted by jb at 6:09 AM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Then one day someone discovered that if you walked as fast as possible and looked at nothing but your shoes you would arrive at your destination much more quickly. ... Day by day the buildings grew fainter and fainter, and the streets faded away, until at last it was entirely invisible. There was nothing to see at all.”

Except for some really amazing new shoe styles.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:16 AM on June 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


The technological revolution in cities has barely begun. Indian slum-dwellers without electricity will soon use solar-powered phones to find cheap healthcare nearby...

Pardon my cynicism, but how are these Indian slum dwellers going to pay for these solar powered smartphones, and the phone service?

Perhaps Bill & Melinda Gates will fund an "iphones for India" project.
posted by MexicanYenta at 6:17 AM on June 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


I will say this; it is a lot easier to be a tourist in major cities now that I have a phone that will help me get from point A to point B with a Maps app or Transit app, and that is especially comforting in an emergency situation in a new city.

You could do this at any point in history though, just by walking up to a local citizen:

Citizen A: "I'm looking for the nearest bathroom."
Citizen B: *Points at giant Saloon sign.*
Citizen A: "I'm also looking for some information about the local history of this area."
Citizen B: *Points at giant Saloon sign.*
Citizen A: "I'm also looking for some entertainment *wink wink, nudge nudge."
Citizen B: *Points at giant Saloon sign.*
Citizen A: "I'm also looking for Two Star Rated Michelin Restaurant?"
Citizen B: **sighs heavily** *Points at giant Saloon sign.*
Citizen A: "I'm also look.....ugh..."
Citizen B: **stabs Citizen A behind Saloon*

There were some drawbacks.
posted by Fizz at 6:28 AM on June 17, 2012 [16 favorites]


Based on my experience seeing a few developing-nation slums, mobile phones are quite common among poor people all over the world. They may not always be able to afford the 'load' (pay-as-you-go) for their phones, but they do own the phones. Of course this was more Latin America and the Philippines where at least it seems most people have access to electricity. Maybe in India it's worse.

But this article just strikes me as yet another breathless (and somewhat clueless) paean to smart phones/social networking/progress!


In 2008, for the first time ever, most humans lived in cities.
They are lured by social networks. To be rural is to be isolated.


I think most people who move to cities are "lured" not by social networks but rather by extremely desperate rural poverty and the slight possibility that the city may offer some stingy form of subsistence. So yeah, if by "social networks" you mean the ability to find a job picking trash from the landfill or whatever, I guess Mr. FT Writer has a point.

In developed nations, mobile phone technology has been a mixed blessing. I have a theory that mobile phones have been responsible for a rapid drop in petty crime in urban areas (I know they've served me well in this case).

However as already noted in this thread there are many, many downsides to mobile/smart phone technology as well. Something of a counterpoint is presented here (via reddit). As I mentioned in the reddit thread, cameras as well as smart phones have played a revolutionary, and not necessarily benign, role in society in recent years.
posted by viborg at 6:34 AM on June 17, 2012 [8 favorites]


Steve Jobs neither invented nor perfected the smart phone. He just made it easy for idiots to access them. The Iphone is to smartphones what Foxnews is to information.

Please tell me you're posting this from a 2007 Blackberry or Windows Mobile 6 "smartphone"
posted by crayz at 6:41 AM on June 17, 2012 [9 favorites]


So yeah, if by "social networks" you mean the ability to find a job picking trash from the landfill or whatever, I guess Mr. FT Writer has a point.

Certainly that may be about all people are going to be doing with them today - optimizing/scaling existing social relationships/structures/etc. This article has all the glib glazed-eyed stupidity of a poor man's Tom Friedman, but the reaction of technological cynicism in this thread is really myopic

How long did it take to feel the effects of the printing press on society? Digital computing is a more profound and fundamental technology than possibly *anything* that has come before. Smartphones are a 5 year old technology. And really they're just called phones because that's one of the specialized, century/ies-old life-blood-of-modern-civilization device/systems that general purpose computation and the internet is replacing today. Along with just about everything else. If it's not enough revolution for you yet, just stick around

"Premises of the age of machines. The press, the machine, the railroad, the telegraph are the premises from which nobody has dared draw the conclusion for a thousand years" - Friedrich Nietzsche
posted by crayz at 7:08 AM on June 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Windows Mobile 6

They said "for idiots", not "by idiots,"
posted by zippy at 7:11 AM on June 17, 2012 [4 favorites]



Steve Jobs neither invented nor perfected the smart phone. He just made it easy for idiots to access them. The Iphone is to smartphones what Foxnews is to information.

Please tell me you're posting this from a 2007 Blackberry or Windows Mobile 6 "smartphone"


Yes. Searching for 'internet traffic growth iphone' leads to too much noise, so I can't get good links, but I remember when the iPhone came out that there were enormous traffic spikes on every network that it connected to. It was clear that its ease of use resulted in it getting used in a fundamentally different way than any device before it.
posted by eye of newt at 7:14 AM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Still in the throes of waking-up-evolving-coherency, I read the article quote as "Steve Jobs was a lifelong submarine" and after reading the actual article wish I'd been right in the first place.
posted by Spatch at 7:17 AM on June 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


Jobs [...] perfected the city.

Did not fucking notice that.
posted by Trochanter at 7:18 AM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Steve Jobs was a lifelong submarine"

You're thinking of James Cameron. I have no doubt that in the next 10 years, we'll see James Cameron slowly evolve from man into machine.
posted by Fizz at 7:22 AM on June 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


The article is interesting and while the premise is largely correct it doesn't go far enough. I'd suggest that these powerful new networks being built in cities are, in fact, creating tremendous wealth and what would be interesting would be to figure out the extent and direction of this wealth. What is the real increase in quality of life as more and more urban dwellers increasingly adopt network technologies? My own suspicion is that these technologies are ultimately creating greater inequality within the city and the latest trend we're seeing in places like New York and Boston, where more and more 'fringe' areas are being gentrified ever more rapidly while the poor are being pushed out into the suburbs, is certainly being helped along by these new technologies.

I'm a big fan of technology but the real concern here is that cities will become less and less diverse as the internet -- which itself is not diverse and is often a terrific homogenizing force, like television jacked up a million -- integrates itself further and further into cities. This destruction of diversity is a really bad thing and will, I think, have a real harmful effect of the culture of cities even as they become wealthier.

All this does support the growing suspicion that technology is the main driver of culture. We focus so much on race and class and location and speak of "inner-city culture" but really perhaps we ought to be talking about "Facebook culture" or "Google culture." It's frustrating that there aren't more people studying this but I suppose this one of those tectonic shifts that happen in the geographer's backyard.


(Smartphones have been around for a decade+. The IPhone was the first smartphone with a decent browser and even this is arguable. Kind of shocking people have already forgotten everything that occurred before those Apple silhouette commercials.)
posted by nixerman at 7:40 AM on June 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


Jobs [...] perfected the city.

Did not fucking notice that.


You have to admit, the growth of the city dring the 20th C was mostly driven by jobs-seekers....
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:04 AM on June 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Well, my smart phone routinely gets used to help lost tourists, but mostly because even after a couple of years I still need a map for anything more complicated than getting to the corner store.
posted by Phalene at 8:06 AM on June 17, 2012


I've always thought the hidden cost of an iPhone or even a cell phone was that you had to unsubscribe from your daydreams or at least restrict them to your working hours.
posted by srboisvert at 8:12 AM on June 17, 2012 [10 favorites]


Here's a link on how the iPhone quickly dominated internet traffic when it came out.

It clearly was a completely different class of product than the previous so-called 'smart' phones.
posted by eye of newt at 8:43 AM on June 17, 2012


This article really does capture perfectly the Thomas Friedman tension between obvious/oblivious.
In short, smartphones are helping make the densest cities the best places to live, as witnessed by property prices in Hong Kong, New York, Paris and London.
Really? Smart phones are responsible for property values being higher in desirable big cities?
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:45 AM on June 17, 2012 [7 favorites]


I've always thought the hidden cost of an iPhone or even a cell phone was that you had to unsubscribe from your daydreams or at least restrict them to your working hours.

Yeah, but now I have really interesting dreams at night! And I use my smartphone to tweet them every morning! (Am I not doing it right? Heh.)
posted by limeonaire at 9:08 AM on June 17, 2012


To be fair, I am surprised when I look up a bus schedule that the bus driver has also seen and acknowledged

To be fair, I assune he's talking about real-time arrival predictions based on GPS tracking, not looking at a schedule.

That said, this article seems like it was written for the Yahoo! Internet Life print magazine.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:22 AM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Putting aside the article's defects, what Android apps would people recommend so that would less hate living in a city?
posted by Flunkie at 9:23 AM on June 17, 2012


It's frustrating that there aren't more people studying this but I suppose this one of those tectonic shifts that happen in the geographer's backyard.
posted by nixerman


I'm pretty sure that the apps have a long way to go before they catch up to all the technology that's present even now. For example we still think in terms of computers and telephones, when the cutting edge nowadays seems to be examining direct communication with the brain: so that folks such as Steven Hawking, in theory, could don an exoskeleton and walk, or persons in a coma could communicate with people outside their bone brainbox. I can imagine, but barely, an app that functions by stimulating the brain, rather than a pixel matrix, and lets you share your flight plan over the Alps with all your peeps. Maybe the newly dead can be stored, and revived now and then to ask them where they left the car keys (or something) before they checked out. I can't, however, even begin to imagine a mentality that lets the whole hive romp through the same RAM space together, but then that's probably for the grandkids to figure out.

Printers can now make working models from an email program--this is an infant industry, but its myriad possibilities haven't yet come to the--um--drawing board. Wanna take bets that my kids won't be able to order a steak sandwich from their kitchen appliance in my lifetime? Or a pair of shoes?

Virtuality doesn't replace the lover's touch, for sure, but there doesn't seem to be much else that can't be taken into the electronic fold. Um, wait, I just re-read the second paragraph. Never mind.
posted by mule98J at 9:23 AM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Can anyone speak to the actual differences in mobile Internet services in the "cities" vs. elsewhere. Is there that much of a gap? I don't see what I get in San Francisco vs. people in Humboldt, Mendocino, and Sonoma ...
posted by mrgrimm at 9:27 AM on June 17, 2012


When evangelists like this guy write cheerleader articles like this they should be required to provide videp evidence of all the chance encounters they had in their own lives that led them to this conclusion so we can see how really empty and artificial and hollow the argument actually us
posted by spicynuts at 9:46 AM on June 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


To be rural is to be isolated. You live in a village or suburb to have space, not to meet people.

This is just a big troll, right?
posted by madajb at 10:06 AM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Huh... I thought Jobs ran a company.

(I really wish the cult of the hero would go away.)
posted by underflow at 10:06 AM on June 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


You live in a village or suburb to have space, not to meet people. But cities create contacts. Someone you run into at a party or your kids’ playground can give you a job or an idea.

Weirdly, I've been in villages and suburbs that have parties and playgrounds. I've even spoken to other people in them.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:09 AM on June 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Starbucks rose thanks to the laptop computer.

Really now?
posted by donovan at 10:18 AM on June 17, 2012


Simon Kuper should probably stick to writing about football.
posted by mr.marx at 10:41 AM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Steve Jobs, with his mighty claws, rigged up every wifi-hotspot in the world. He also fed the hungry by donating every flawed apple icon to starving villages himself, letting them eat from his mouth like a mother hen to her chics.

He invented the internet by simply farting on some wires.

Seriously though, stop crediting a really good marketer for every damn thing. You belittle those who are actually responsible for the world you live in.
posted by Malice at 10:56 AM on June 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


In developed nations, mobile phone technology has been a mixed blessing. I have a theory that mobile phones have been responsible for a rapid drop in petty crime in urban areas (I know they've served me well in this case).
One interesting aspect: They are expensive but they are somewhat useless as stolen property, you would need to take it to an expert to have it wiped or disassembled for parts
Yes. Searching for 'internet traffic growth iphone' leads to too much noise, so I can't get good links, but I remember when the iPhone came out that there were enormous traffic spikes on every network that it connected to. It was clear that its ease of use resulted in it getting used in a fundamentally different way than any device before it.
People forget that there are other countries besides the US, where carriers significantly restricted internet access on their phones for a long time. People who had blackberries or windows phones (which weren't as snazzy but weren't impossible to use either). In other countries you had a lot more freedom to connect whatever device you wanted to the network.

Also, the original iphone wasn't even a true "smartphone". People forget, but you couldn't load apps on it at all. You could surf the web, and Jobs said that people would need to do everything the web. Later on, after people started hacking the phone in order to sell programs for it they opened it up to developers and the app market, etc. Android had already been in development, and was developed from the ground up to support multiple applications (which is why it has the robust permission model, etc)

Anyway, it's annoying. He's not even saying "Apple" it's all "Steve Jobs" as if the guy single-handedly created all mobile and desktop computer technology. What he was good at was marketing, and the iPhone was the most heavily marketed smartphone and the iPad was the most heavily marketed tablet. The iPad is the tablet that got everyone started using tablets because they spent the money to make that happen. Same way that Microsoft was able to break into the Japanese dominated video game business with the XBox even though other less well financed companies were never able to do it.
(Smartphones have been around for a decade+. The IPhone was the first smartphone with a decent browser and even this is arguable. Kind of shocking people have already forgotten everything that occurred before those Apple silhouette commercials.)
There was a thread a while back where someone claimed that even the word smartphone didn't exist before the iPhone came on sale. I actually went through google books and found magazine articles about smartphones from the mid-90s. It was ridiculous.
Here's a link on how the iPhone quickly dominated internet traffic when it came out.

It clearly was a completely different class of product than the previous so-called 'smart' phones.
Well, for one thing again the initial iphone didn't even have applications. You had to do everything on the internet. With previous smartphones, the focus had been on running applications for various things. The other thing, as I said: they spent a ton of money on advertising and marketing to regular consumers, rather then business types that RIM and Microsoft advertised too.

Let's not pretend it was some magical, heretofore undiscovered property of the device that made all of this happen.
posted by delmoi at 11:00 AM on June 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think there's something to be said about distilling what's going on: smartphones help increase the amount of information available to both casual visitors to the city, as well as helping local residents expand the number of neighborhoods they have access to. Eg Yelp helps higher rated local restaurants raise revenues at the expense of chains. When people feel like a local restaurant or area won't be a risky endeavor (in a bad food sense), they're more likely to value diversity of experience, and take risks on diversity of experience (Olive Gardens are popular because people know exactly what they are getting).

Applications that help navigate people through a city's information (transit, buses, etc) increase the number of people with that knowledge, they essentially lower the costs of the city. Its not just for locals anymore.

Did Jobs kickstart this? Fuck no. But its definitely complementary.
posted by stratastar at 11:38 AM on June 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Whether or not this article was well-written, or even if it credits Steve Jobs too much, I have found its essential thesis to be right. I have been a city dweller my entire adult life, and the experience is significantly different, and significantly improved, by the smart phone.

Particularly because I live in Los Angeles and go a lot of places I have never been before, the GPS technology is essential. I used to get lost a lot -- which is nice when you just want to explore, but frustrating if you have to be at a specific place at a specific time. Also, it used to be quite easy just to miss people, because they went to the wrong place, or you did, or you got your schedules cocked up, or whatever. Now there is a constant flow of information via text messages.

But, beyond that, there are now apps specifically designed to aid the experience of living in the city. LA is a town where a lot of people just dump garbage in the street. In order to get it picked up, you must call 311 -- a slow process, and more than once I have waited 20 minutes and then been disconnected. Thanks to an app called CitySourced, I can now just snap a photo of an abandoned sofa, or mattress, or spray-painted tag, and the app will automatically geotag it and send it to the right department. A process that used to take me as much as a half hour now takes seconds, and it has worked every time I have tried it. I always like to include aesthetic complaints when I tag stuff for pickup as well. "Old sofa," I will write, "of an especially offensive shade of salmon." "Old mattress," I will write, "poorly made and laundered with a shoddy wooden frame; must have been hideously uncomfortable."

There are apps to tell you where food trucks are, apps that link to the history of a city, apps that make dinner reservations, and apps that allow gay people to find each other for what I assume to be casual hook-ups, based on what I have seen of their use on buses in West Hollywood. All of this has made my experience of living in the city much better. And, best of all, I just don't get lost like I used to.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:39 AM on June 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


Also, the original iphone wasn't even a true "smartphone".... Android had already been in development, and was developed from the ground up to support ...

What he was good at was marketing, and the iPhone was the most heavily marketed smartphone and the iPad was the most heavily marketed tablet. The iPad is the tablet that got everyone started using tablets because they spent the money to make that happen.


iPhone release date: June 29, 2007
Android demo video: November 11, 2007

I recommend everyone just give that a watch (specifically start around 1:20 for a UI demo)
posted by crayz at 11:49 AM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


god i am so glad my mom and dad fled nyc when i was about 6 months old. i love it here in the sticks. and so does my smartphone.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 11:55 AM on June 17, 2012


And, best of all, I just don't get lost like I used to.

See, I really enjoy getting lost in a city; every time I move somewhere new I go wandering aimlessly a few times just to get my bearings. I find all kinds of things I never would have otherwise. Tokyo and Osaka would not have been anywhere near as fun as they were for me if I had gone out with direction and purpose. I suppose it could be dangerous though in some places...
posted by Hoopo at 12:38 PM on June 17, 2012 [3 favorites]


As I said, I liked to get lost every now and then. It's a hassle when you have to be somewhere at a specific sometime, though.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:51 PM on June 17, 2012


I think some of the comments here are a little near-sighted. Portable Internet-enabled devices have certainly made life much easier for a restricted segment of city-dwellers: ones who are at least moderately affluent, mobile, and spend significant amounts of time outside the home.

A very substantial fraction of a city's population is composed of people who are none of those things: the working poor. Apart from the ability to text, it's difficult to imagine how their lives have been altered by the rise of the smartphone.

The poor usually travel between a limited number of fixed destinations: work, home, the homes of relatives. They plan their routes in advance and stick to them, because the cost of getting stranded or being late may be quite high. They are unlikely to go looking for Malaysian food in an unfamiliar part of the city, or have time for aimless walking tours.

In essence, an iPhone is largely a device for discovering new leisure expenses: menus, showtimes, travel itineraries. As such, I'm sure it's wonderful for facilitating leisure lifestyles.

But it doesn't create those lifestyles. Handing out smartphones to the urban working poor in hopes of dramatically improving their lives is putting the cart before the horse. To use an example quoted above, I doubt that the issue with access to healthcare in India's urban slums would be significantly alleviated by mapping and online scheduling apps.
posted by Nomyte at 1:35 PM on June 17, 2012 [4 favorites]


I have a theory that the spike in internet traffic from the introduction of smartphones was a direct result of everyone downloading all of these buggy, bloated and specialized apps. To be a bit less snarkly, perhaps there is not a direct relationship between 'number of bits' sent over a network and their societal utility?
posted by sfts2 at 1:42 PM on June 17, 2012


A very substantial fraction of a city's population is composed of people who are none of those things: the working poor. Apart from the ability to text, it's difficult to imagine how their lives have been altered by the rise of the smartphone.

I am the working poor. We also own smartphones.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 2:29 PM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I humbly submit that, as a member of the band The Ultramods, playwright, arts journalist, and photographer, you are substantially different from people typically called "the working poor."
posted by Nomyte at 2:42 PM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't use foursquare. I do use GPS. Before smartphones, if I was going someplace I had never been before or was a bit hazy on the details of how to get somewhere I would take the subway to as close as I could get and check the map in the station before getting out. Unless I could see the Manhattan skyline, I would walk the wrong way every single fucking time and have to turn around. Now I no longer check the map. I pull out my iPhone, look at the map and still end up walking the wrong direction.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:43 PM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I humbly submit that, as a member of the band The Ultramods, playwright, arts journalist, and photographer, you are substantially different from people typically called "the working poor."

I'd humbly submit that your definition of working poor might need to be expanded. But, speaking as somebody who has lived in working poor neighborhoods his entire life, and who's actual sources of income have typically come from jobs such as cashiering, I can safely say that even if I don't represent the typical working poor in terms of what I do with my free time, I do know a lot of working poor people, and plenty of them have iPhones.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 2:49 PM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd humbly submit that your definition of working poor might need to be expanded.

I apologize for my presumption. You are undoubtedly free to affiliate yourself with any segment of society. I only meant to say that your daily life, your needs and demands, comings and goings, are substantially different from those of a huge number of other people. You are an exceptional person with a rich professional life, and taking your example as illustrative of a larger trend seems problematic. The fact that you consider yourself a member of the working poor is rather beside the point.

I can safely say that even if I don't represent the typical working poor in terms of what I do with my free time, I do know a lot of working poor people, and plenty of them have iPhones.

It's difficult for me to read that and not suspect that you're insinuating that I don't know any myself. That's probably just me, though. I assume that this wasn't your intent. I'm not exactly living a life of leisure, although I'm very aware that being salaried and having a job that requires a college degree puts me somewhere in the trailing edge of the middle class. I've certainly done a lot of volunteering with the working poor, and my own family is very definitely part of that group.

The point of the article (and this conversation) is that the lives of those people will experience enormous changes as a result of the spread of smartphones. Again, aside from the advent of texting, which is not even the core smartphone functionality, I have not noticed smartphones influencing the lives of the poor. Can you give some examples of how smartphones influence the lives of people you know, working with my admittedly restricted definition of "the working poor"?
posted by Nomyte at 3:10 PM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Church apps. Bus apps. Map apps. To do lists. Grocery lists. Coupon apps. Calendar apps.

I feel odd trying to pin down apps that the working poor specifically use, though. A lot of the working poor I know do a lot of the things I do, and use apps for the same reason: To pick movies. To figure out how much to tip. To play video games.

There's some pretty good house hunting apps, though.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:20 PM on June 17, 2012


Well, yes, but what do those things do? How do they change one's regular activity? For example, a map app shouldn't have much effect on someone who rarely travels outside some circumscribed area. A grocery list doesn't much change the life of someone who usually buys the cheapest item. Sorry if I'm being dense and this is getting obnoxious, but I genuinely want to understand the difference a smartphone might make.
posted by Nomyte at 3:44 PM on June 17, 2012


Church apps. Bus apps. Map apps. To do lists. Grocery lists. Coupon apps. Calendar apps.

Facebook. Taking videos of your cats. Entertaining-your-kids-in-line-at-the-grocery-store apps.

I am not working poor, but work exclusively with/for the working poor, and wanted to echo that these people most definitely use smart phones, possibly even more than the rest of us, since they may not have DSL, home computers, or even homes for that matter. But everyone has a cell phone plan, and smart phones are less than $100.

Smart phones most definitely have made survival in a big city easier, whether you're looking for anonymous gay sex, high end sushi, how to apply for welfare, or a good immigration lawyer. I think the spirit of the posted article is correct, it just takes a profoundly stupid person to A. marvel publicly at something the rest have consciously known for what, at least 5 years and B. to attribute this technological wonder to one guy who had a very small influence overall to the infrastructure and economics that made it happen.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 3:45 PM on June 17, 2012


Well, I suppose it depends on the poor person. The line of business I am in now, being a background actor for movies, is about as working poor as you can get in Hollywood -- for most it is a minimum wage job. But it requires extensive travel. It also requires that the employees check in with their booking services and Central Casting constantly, which smart phones have made possible in a way that hasn't existed before.

Additionally, there is an app on my phone that tells me free things that are happening in LA, and that's terrifically useful. There is an app that tells me where food trucks are, and, as this is the lunch counter of many of the local working poor, that's a very useful app. Even the working poor in LA have to deal with traffic (I am one of the few without a car), and there are traffic mapping apps that can spell the difference between being on time for work and being fired.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:49 PM on June 17, 2012


I know a bunch of Native Alaskans who use Facebook on their iPhones to coordinate hunting across large areas of tundra ( you can get the signals a long way from town on the tundra) -- status update says a large herd of carbou just came past the southern edge of town, evryone knows to move north.

We're talking remote bush villages and very small towns here.
posted by spitbull at 3:50 PM on June 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Caribou and everyone, fucking Steve Jobs touchscreen keyboard bullshit.
posted by spitbull at 3:51 PM on June 17, 2012


MetaFilter: Caribou and everyone
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 3:53 PM on June 17, 2012


Thanks for the explanation! I realize that there's a huge range of experiences, and I'm glad to know about this new-to-me corner. I remain convinced that there are significant pockets of the population who are either too technologically averse or too socially disconnected to get much use from a smartphone. But it's very interesting to learn that they're not necessarily useless, even to the working poor.
posted by Nomyte at 4:00 PM on June 17, 2012


I think I might purchase a smart phone. Where can I get one?
posted by fzx101 at 4:05 PM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


I remain convinced that there are significant pockets of the population who are either too technologically averse or too socially disconnected to get much use from a smartphone.

Oh, I'm sure you're right about this.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 4:05 PM on June 17, 2012


I think I might purchase a smart phone. Where can I get one?

Try here.
posted by Nomyte at 4:11 PM on June 17, 2012


For two centuries, technologies damaged cities.

This is sooooo facile that I could hardly continue. If you're going to start with a historical background as flawed and sprawling as that to build your premise on, it's not likely you're going to arrive at any really groundbreaking insights about urbanism.
posted by Miko at 5:10 PM on June 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wanna take bets that my kids won't be able to order a steak sandwich from their kitchen appliance in my lifetime? Or a pair of shoes?

Your kids will never be able to order a steak sandwich from a pair of shoes.
posted by MrBadExample at 8:34 PM on June 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm not a luddite.

Don't apologize: there's no shame in it. In the end, they were right.
posted by cenoxo at 9:45 PM on June 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


The natural family home in which the mother cooks and the whole family sit down at the table together to eat and talk, is in retreat. The more common occurence is of the individual or one parent set-up, eating in front of the television and absorbing the propaganda of the State.

Not sure I agree with your link that I want to go back to a time where men lived short and dirty lives and the women allegedly did all the cooking (and were property with no protections against rape in marriage, lest we forget. Damn that modern interference in all that!).
posted by jaduncan at 1:13 AM on June 18, 2012


cenoxo's link, to be clear.
posted by jaduncan at 1:13 AM on June 18, 2012


See , I think "To be rural is to be isolated" is total bunk. When I lived in a small town, everyone knew everyone else more or less.
posted by newdaddy at 3:41 AM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Well, for one thing again the initial iphone didn't even have applications. You had to do everything on the internet. With previous smartphones, the focus had been on running applications for various things. The other thing, as I said: they spent a ton of money on advertising and marketing to regular consumers, rather then business types that RIM and Microsoft advertised too.

Let's not pretend it was some magical, heretofore undiscovered property of the device that made all of this happen.
--delmoi

We'll just have to agree to disagree on this. People -wanted- to access the Internet on their phones, but it was way too difficult and awkward. The closest thing was Blackberry making email convenient, and they sold very well because of that feature.

You think it was just advertising? As if Microsoft, Palm, and Nokia weren't spending millions trying to get regular customers to buy their phones.

I'm not some Apple/Jobs fanboy. In fact I don't own a single Apple product. But I saw what happened when the iPhone came out. It was groundbreaking.
posted by eye of newt at 8:07 AM on June 18, 2012


Ditto on the "Jobs not merely a salesman" point. Sad that may people still don't get it.

But on the subject of mobile net access - easy to use in multiple ways, which is the significance of the iPhone's design (not its marketing) and of any device which may successfully recreate that ease-of-use:

I didn't get one right away (not 'til 2009), but hearing my (not a fanboi by any stretch) brother's expressions of amazement back in mid-2007 after my folks gave him one, I realized that it had gotten something fundamentally right that no smartphone had before.

It's the tying together of many threads of my online and offline life that makes my iPhone a significant enhancement to my urban life. The author is naïve and commits some basic single-source & correlation-causation fallacies (people aren't drawn to cities because enhanced mobile net access makes the appeal of city life cross some critical threshold; that's just silly), but this unifying effect of the tech is something real.

Here in Montreal I get around in different ways - mass transit; by bike, including the Bixi bike share/rental system; and when the need to haul a lot of stuff arises, my car. For mass transit, the scheduling app works well, albeit only because, unlike many cities, they actually keep to the schedule within a margin of two or three minutes. ('twas never the case in Boston or San Francisco…) I can't imagine using Bixi without the app that shows me which stations have how many bikes and empty slots (for dropping off the bike.) The bike path map (the network here is fairly substantial by N. American standards) is also useful, not to mention Google Maps and Streetview. (Yeah, yeah, I know Apple's dropping Maps as its default mapper, but I should still be able to use it as a third-party app.) And I can save money on parking via the IPAP (is parking already paid?) app which shows how much time may be left on a meter (most spaces here do not have individual meters with displays, but instead a kiosk for all the spaces within a block, with a display there and a printout slip that shows how long you've paid for.)

Add to that the obvious benefits of accessing email, Facebook, other social networks, websites of venues, offices, and restaurants I may be headed to, as well as texting and phoning, for keeping up with friends' changing plans as we head out to meet up, etc., or, for instance, the ability to check on which species of fish at my local markets are sustainable (an app for that, recommended by environmentalist David Suzuki), being able to snap pretty high-quality pictures (and edit them fairly well even before I get home) of neat things I see, and my daily life is considerably better organized and efficient than it was prior to the iPhone. (And I haven't even gotten into the many musically useful applications it has for me as a composer, performing musician, and plain old fan out seeing shows - e.g., hmm, what key is that in? (I don't have perfect pitch.) What BPM? There's an app for those...)

(Another unprecedented application this spring was being able to follow the Livestream real-time video feeds from (my university) Concordia's brave CUTV crew at the tuition/anti-austerity protests that have been so violently suppressed by the cops, in one case when I was only a couple of blocks from where the protesters were being kettled and beaten, so that the next day I had already seen with my own eyes much of what actually went down and so could see how poor and slanted the Anglophone media's coverage was.)

It leaves me more time to pay attention to the many facets of my city as I move about in it.
posted by Philofacts at 1:25 PM on June 18, 2012


too technologically averse or too socially disconnected to get much use from a smartphone.

Or just don't need a mobile computer. I know plenty of lawyers who still get by on flip-phones, not even blackberries, because, well, call me if you want me.

For mass transit, the scheduling app works well, albeit only because, unlike many cities, they actually keep to the schedule within a margin of two or three minutes. ('twas never the case in Boston or San Francisco…)

Do I need to scream it? NEXTBUS (or BART real-time). They have GPS transmitters on each bus/train!!! (A lot of SF bus stops (and BART stops, of course) now have the nextbus info on the stop itself, so poor people can play along as well.) The schedules do not matter!

Add to that the obvious benefits of accessing email, Facebook, other social networks, websites of venues, offices, and restaurants I may be headed to

"Obvious" ... LOL.
posted by mrgrimm at 3:22 PM on June 18, 2012


Also, Call 511 provides all the real-time bus/train arrival information that a smartphone does. (It just costs the city like $1 each call or something stupid ...) My lawyer friend with the dumb phone uses it ALL the time.
posted by mrgrimm at 3:23 PM on June 18, 2012


Do I need to scream it? NEXTBUS (or BART real-time). They have GPS transmitters on each bus/train!!! (A lot of SF bus stops (and BART stops, of course) now have the nextbus info on the stop itself, so poor people can play along as well.) The schedules do not matter!

Yes, I remember seeing pix on the web of the NEXTBUS displays at SF's bus stops. Note the past tense: "'twas never the case" that they met a schedule (and it's still the case, I see.) I'm speaking of ten and twenty years ago and more. Of course, if I still lived in the Bay Area, I'd get the appropriate apps to pull up that real-time data in lieu of those transit systems' perennial inability to meet a schedule, just as I do now with the Bixi and parking systems here. It's just not necessary to get real-time data for Montreal's transit system. If they ever do deteriorate to SF/Boston levels, then we'll see.

Re it "not mattering", it's still nice to have the system stick to its alleged schedule even if you can check how late it happens to be this time; e.g., once you know that your regular commute's morning bus arrives with in a minute or two of, let's say, 8:11, you don't have to constantly be nervous about being late to work. With SF's chronically unreliable arrival times, you might often only get the benefit of knowing just how late you're going to be.

Of course, if you can afford to blow money on a cab (hard to find in SF's 'hoods, as I recall, also unlike here, where there are reliable taxi stands not just in the downtown area, but all over), every time the next bus or MUNI streetcar takes 45 minutes to arrive during alleged rush hour (a fairly frequent occurrence on the N-Judah when I lived in the Inner Sunset district), or if getting to work on time is a non-issue for you, then YMMV, as they say.

As for "obvious benefits" of mobile net access, do I have to mention things like pulling up phone #'s, reviews, does the restaurant accommodate brown-bagging your wine or beer, seating charts at halls, parking in the area, which transit stops are closest, etc., for destinations around the city, or checking to see if someone has changed our meeting place or is late, and has messaged a whole bunch of us to let us know, with details better conveyed via a web link, without always having to think about it before I leave the house?
posted by Philofacts at 10:28 PM on June 18, 2012


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