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Hacking Sustainability: Part 1

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  • eric britton
    Where can we find this app? The idea is familiar: i.e., making use of the smart phone with GPS in our pocket, and putting it to work to help us calibrate and
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 17, 2012
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      Where can we find this app?

      The idea is familiar: i.e., making use of the smart phone with GPS in our pocket, and putting it to work to help us calibrate and understand a range of interconnected variables related to our mobility choices. Both (a) as the now more familiar on-line information system that can help us make better travel choices, and, less well known, (b) as a feedback system which will permit us to understand the key implications of those specific choices. Including where we travel, when and how -- and as a result the health, economics and environmental impacts of our choices, and if possible both personal and collective. Think of such an app as a healthy mobility feedback kit in our pocket.

      There are of course literally thousands of transport apps out there today of various intentions and quality, a number of them really excellent. But where are the ones that also provide user feedback and decision criteria on (a) those specific mobility choices and (b) their impacts on health, environment, economics? Does such an app exist, and if so please share your information with us so that we all can have a look and learn from good examples?

      For starters and to do the full job, these apps would have to provide the more usual functions of the full range of mobility choices open to each of us, in that place and at that time: both the phone and database know who you are, your location, and to a certain extent your historic transport preferences. On that base you then tap in your desired destination, desired time or conditions of transit (either right now or scheduled at some future time as you prefer). Your app will then present what it guesses are your likely preferences stacked and presented to you in the order that the database knows you usually prefer -- as well as the by now pretty usual range of information on likely time in transit, CO2 impacts, etc., etc. Handy stuff and pretty well served by many apps already out there doing the job in different places.

      Again we open up this kind of tool and use it not because we HAVE to -- but because we figure it is in our interest to do so. And of course once we get the habit, we just do it without really thinking about it. And in the process we have moved up the effectiveness scale from active to passive reactions, the latter being far more powerful. Just the kind of thing that is needed to get on the path to sustainability.

      But that's just the first layer. However before we get to the second layer, a few quick words about the challenge of sustainability on our benighted wheezing planet.

      At the heart of the move to sustainability, in all senses, is the idea that we, one by one, are going to have to modify our behavior and replace many old habits, some bad, with ones that may benefit us, both personally and collectively Now we are not taking about "behavior modification" at the hands of some dark government agency or merciless Soviet doctor/scientist sitting at a threatening console controlling electrodes attached to our who-knows-where parts. But rather a personal willingness of our part to change, if only a bit, simply we understand that this or that decision and action will be to our personal benefit. And perhaps, why not?, beneficial in some small way to society as a whole. Changing because we want to, not because we are forced to.

      Now back to that app. What I want it to tell me is, for example, if I walk or bike on my next trip, or hop into my car, what will be the personal health impacts of my choice. And if possible not simply in the frame of calories burned, but also against the backdrop of a more personalized health database/app.

      Ditto for the financial impacts (on my purse and that of the community as a whole), the effect on traffic, the environmental impacts, etc. And so on down the mobility choice chain.

      Our good app might at the end of each week/month present us with a summary of the various key implications of our aggregate mobility choices over that period.

      Finally, our good app will have to be open and programmable so that it can be easily and legally adapted to work in different places.

      Now where is that app we should be looking at here?

      /Eric Britton
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