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27th November 2014

Making new friends

25th August 2014 | Posted in Uncategorized

blue mosqueI was on holiday in Istanbul last week. Two good friends recommended the city and they were right, it’s a fabulous place to go. I can’t quite work out why it’s taken me so many years to get there.

Like many places I visit for work and fun, I’m glad I wasn’t driving. It’s a big bustling place with some road manners that make even the M25 look relaxed. Someone once told me the best way to see a new city is from the back of a taxi and while that sounds characteristically decadent coming from her, I agree. Having someone else worry about the traffic and directions and having no concern at all over parking certainly takes some of the stress out of getting around a new town and that last thing, parking, made me think about JustPark, an App that’s been around for some years but which made the news at the beginning of August. JustPark, and it’s competitors CarPlay and the Open Automotive Alliance, work by giving owners of private parking spaces the chance to rent them to someone needing a place to leave their car. Driveways near sports and music venues are the most immediately obvious application but as the BBC found there’s other potential beneficiaries as well. JustPark’s big new deal, which will see the technology installed in every new mini immediately and eventually in all new BMWs, is the thin end of a wedge which the mobile operators trade body estimates will put 60 million connected cars on the road over the next five years.

JustPark is a neat illustration of classical economic activity, intermediation, reaching new markets since it is the technology which makes possible that which was previously impractical but it also strikes me that there’s something else going on here. Like it’s predecessor, Airbnb, which introduces home owners with spare bedrooms to people looking for holiday rooms to rent, what JustPark are doing is monetizing for themselves and some private citizens something previously economically redundant. What they are also doing, completely by accident, is introducing some people to one another that would otherwise never have met and personalising that which was previously impersonal. The only conversations I’ve ever had in car parks have been to hand over my wallet to a mugger or complain about a malfunctioning ticket machine and it’s all too easy to stay in a comfortable modern hotel without a conversation with anyone after check-in. If I’m parking in your drive or sleeping in your spare room, I’m pretty sure we’re much more likely to meet and talk.

The opportunity here for proper human interaction is a fascinating reflection to add to Malcolm Gladwell’s observation about why ‘The Revolution won’t be tweeted’, and a counterpoint to those that wonder at the changes technology brings into our homes. The connected car and JustPark aren’t aimed at helping people interact any more than Fifa14 and Grand Theft Auto 5 are aimed at stopping them but the law of unintended consequences may have a balancing logic all of it’s own, it seems.

 

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