Futurologist Oona Strathern about mindful mobility

07.11.2017 | Text Maya Morlock | Photo Klaus Vyhnalek

portrait of Oona Strathern
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Read these tips on staying mindful in interconnected cities.

Autonomous driving and electromobility will have a considerable impact on urban living. Futurologist Oona Strathern shares some tips on staying mindful in interconnected cities.

Ms Strathern, what effect will electromobility have on transportation?

It will become quieter and less hectic. I can say from experience that when you drive electric, you’re more aware. You have to know when it’s time to recharge and take into account that driving fast means consuming more power.

You talk about mindful mobility. What exactly does that mean?

New technologies help us to drive more attentively. We can embrace these technologies to make driving a more pleasant and safe experience. For me, mindful mobility starts where pedestrians and drivers can safely go about their business. But mindful mobility can also be fun – just imagine leaving a sports car in the dust when the light turns green. With the new generation of electric cars, you can go from zero to 60 pretty quickly.

What are some of the challenges this technology still presents?

Just because electric cars can perform many of the tasks that were once the driver’s responsibility and, ideally, can drive completely autonomously that doesn’t mean that we should place blind faith in this technology. I believe that mindful mobility also means paying attention to road traffic. Being aware of one’s surroundings. There is an interesting study that was conducted in Holland in which researchers investigated what would happen if all of the traffic lights and signs were taken out of a busy area. Drivers suddenly became much more attentive and were much more cognizant of what was happening around them. That would be my message to autonomous driving of the future: pay more attention to your surroundings and pedestrians! This new-found silence in the advent of electric driving is a source of worry particularly for those with seeing impairments.

New technologies help us to drive more attentively. We can embrace these technologies to make driving a more pleasant and safe experience.

Oona Strathern

You also warn us about a technical sensory overload in smart cities. Why?

Not every new technical gadget can automatically be seen as progress for humankind. These technologies can lead to a sensory overload, which serves to alienate us from our surroundings. Although technology often fosters interconnectedness, I feel as though this often does little to actually help the individual. We need to take a step back and place the focus back on people. This means thinking seriously about how to practice mindful connecting. About how technical connections can actually make everyday life better.

Can you give an example of how mindful connecting could look?

This may be a strange example, but single households and the number of older people – and hence loneliness – are on the rise in bigger cities in particular. Older people hardly leave their flats, rarely receive visitors, and look forward to that one time per day when they can chat with the mail carrier. In London, there is an app called ‘Good Gym’, which addresses this issue. It connects young, athletic people with older or lonelier people. The athletic person can jog to another person to share a cup of tea, bring them the newspaper, or just have a good conversation. This way the athletic person has a clear goal and the lonely person has company, and thus a connection is made. For me, this is the next level of ‘smart’. It uses technology to connect people, but has the greater goal of helping them.

Author Oona Strathern

The visionary

Oona Strathern comes from London. She has been a trend researcher, consultant, speaker and author for over 20 years. Her books address the history of futurology, architecture and the future. Together with her husband, Matthias Horx, she founded the Zukunftsinstitut, where she collaborates on many studies. Her research interests include architecture, urban development and the relationship between emotions and technology.

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