A quintessential question to our existence is, “Why do we need to move?” Apart from the obvious evolutionary advantages, there could be several other important and critical aspects to mobility.We, as a community and species, have created, shaped and transformed the concept of mobility and perhaps now we are at a critical timepoint to define it again to leap-frog into the future.
THE MOBILITY DUALITY
Going a layer beneath the obvious, one can appreciate that there is a certain duality to mobility—physical and a virtual aspects. We understand that there is a need for mobility but do we also realize that there is a benefit to mobility? Years ago the need and benefit was not separable, the physical and the virtual worlds were closer together. But about it in today’s context: in the 21st century the physical and virtual have separated themselves, making the rift between need and benefit stronger.
We don’t need to move to gather food, as the delivery heroes are working round the clock for us. We don’t need to move to have a conversation, as there are networks to offer all the contact lists we need to keep us social. We don’t need to move to explore new lands, as we have mapped and chartered the last centimeter of space on this planet, and can visualize it.We don’t need to move to work in this digital world, accessibility to information is a mouse click away.
Virtual aspects of mobility have taken a central stage today. It is an evolutionary process that has been happening over the last decade justifying the need to dissect this aspect of mobility further. A generation before,it was mostly impossible to think of communication without a postman physically moving through the winding streets of the city. In a not so distant future, we will not need a postman. Virtual mobility in communication, information availability and resource access has changed how we interact and behave. This will be so omnipresent that we might accept the virtual aspects of mobility as the societal norm.
SPECULATIVE MOBILITY IN THE 21st CENTURY
THE BRAIN-MIND DUALITY - WHAT CAN WE LEARN FROM IT?
A similar but a much better-known duality concept stems from the 17th century, when René Descartes proposed the dualism of the brain and the mind. The mind is considered the seat of consciousness, which facilitates the abstraction of all the information that the brain processes. The brain on the other hand is hard-wired and integrates the information that we receive.Sensory information from the physical world is transformed into cognitive percepts and thoughts. So thoughts, feelings, emotions are perhaps the abstractions of what we see, touch, hear and taste. If I could copy all the information I receive into your brain would that evoke the same thoughts in you? Is that its own kind of mobility? If information is transferable, then reading out our brain’s synaptic weights and connections could be implanted on to a surrogate host to carry out our intentions.
CONDITIONED BRAIN VERSUS THE PREDICTIVE MIND
Since the beginning of humanity, we have been obsessed with predicting the future. We want to predict the future because it gives us a creative canvas to vent our wishes and desires for a better world. Almost. Mobility will have an ever so important and critical future. We want to get faster, stronger and better in getting access to our resources. Could present models of mobility that condition our behavior provide some predictions for the future? A time-traveler from 2090 in the present day’s world might be shocked to see a map for the subway. Why do we have physical tracks resulting in congested hubs and bottlenecks in the cities? Couldn’t we just print tracks, move on it and erase it on the way out? Would we hover around at high speeds delivering people,energy and resources? In the eyes of future mobility, perhaps we are valued as commodities waiting to be picked up for a defined destination in a given time.
The ability to explore future worlds is however dependent on the
current timeline. In this world we have several pockets where timelines are running in parallel but not at synchronous speeds.(And time, when viewed this way, is another kind of mobility.) Be it data mobility on the internet, car sharing in Europe, automated driving on roads or social mobility for refugees migrating to economically stronger countries, they are all subject to the social and cultural context. Even though India and Indians provide half the data security systems in the world, one is hesitant to enter credit card details on an online portal in India. Even though car sharing is seen a green solution to mobility, in South Korea it’s not popular due to hygiene issues. Automated driving is good as long as the neighboring drivers are not aware that the car next to theirs is on autopilot. The socio-cultural aspects raise the question about the right time to implement future mobility solutions so that all and sundry can reap benefits from it, especially in an age when we are experiencing a metamorphosis between the physical and virtual worlds.
There is never a right or wrong side to duality. We have embraced and experiment with new models and aspects of mobility. The future will tell if mobility is still quintessential to our evolution, and if so how this might look. As passionate researchers and observers of nature, we might have to look back to seek out some of the answers for the future. Behavior is patterned and the more we revisit our history the better we can envision our future. Virtual mobility is here to stay, whether you’re aware of it or not.
Written by Prateep Beed.
Illustrations by Frank Gräfe.