Google Maps and its unintended consequences

“The traffic in Brighton has gotten much worse in the last couple of years,” Daryl, my taxi driver stated. “People haven’t been buying more cars than usual. It’s the same quantity of cars, it’s just a lot more congested. And Google is to blame.”

Daryl runs a seven-person taxi company in Brighton, so he has a pretty good idea about traffic. According to him, Google sends drivers in waves towards the “fastest route”. As these drivers converge on the ‘fastest route’, it no longer becomes the fastest route, but often the slowest one. Google has begun creating traffic jams as it tries to optimize and get people there more quickly.

Daryl thinks that “everyone now is using Google maps on their phones”. When everyone starts going down the fastest route, that’s going to create problems. He also mentioned a conversation he had with a lady who lives in a neighbourhood just outside of town. She said that in 20 years, she’s never seen as much traffic on her street. Daryl knows that it’s Google because he remembers how Google has recommended it to him as a shortcut. This street is narrow with parking on both sides, and it’s hard for two cars to pass by each other.

“No shortcuts today. I’m in a hurry.” So goes a Japanese saying. Google promises that this route is one minute faster than the other; and that one minute is precious, particularly for those commuting to and from work.

“A recent study of British commuters,” Lydia Smith writes for Quartz in October 2017, “found that even just a 20-minute increase in commute time is equivalent to getting a 19% pay cut for job satisfaction. Every extra minute spent travelling to and from work feels like a lifetime—and, unsurprisingly, increases strain on our wellbeing.”

What has digital brought us? Stagnant wages meet rising rents and houses prices, pushing people further away from their work. “The number of workers who commute daily in the UK for two hours or more has increased by a third in five years,” Smith writes. It is Millennials who are hit hardest by these lengthening commutes, the generation who have the privilege of being better educated and worse paid that their parents were when they were their age.

Yes, digital is working well for the elites, as the one percent become criminally richer sucking up wealth like some vast, ravenous octopus. Us in the digital industry are doing pretty well too, as we service design, design think, AI and Internet of Things away to our hearts content. We’re doing our bit to eliminate and automate more jobs, so that the middle class becomes the new working class and the working class becomes the new working poor.

But we’ve given them smartphones and social networks to keep them company on their long and lonely commutes. Who can help it if Apple and Facebook and Google get so vastly richer and more powerful and more controlling every day? But at least we’re making their world more convenient. At least we’re saving them time.

Our crowded, lengthy commutes are making us more lonely than ever



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