In praise of the shar­ing apps of the fu­ture

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - PAGE TWO - Greg Foun­tain

Some­times, change hap­pens with­out you re­ally notic­ing it.

It can be so in­cre­men­tal as to be al­most im­per­cep­ti­ble, but change, as Sam Cooke used to sing, is go­ing to come.

That’s es­pe­cially true with tech­nol­ogy, a sec­tor where in­no­va­tion is so prized, and in­deed nec­es­sary, that at times it can seem like each new thought is be­ing killed by an­tic­i­pa­tion of the next.

See, I’m of an age where I can just about be classed as a “mil­len­nial”, though as this term seems syn­ony­mous with “dig­i­tal na­tive” now, I’m not too sure I want to be tarred with the same brush.

This Day, That Year

I didn’t grow up us­ing lap­tops and smartphones, or even the hum­ble old PDA.

But I can re­mem­ber the first time I saw a PC. It was at pri­mary school — one ma­chine to share be­tween 200 of us. At that time, all I knew about PCs was that they could con­nect to this mag­i­cal new thing called the in­ter­net.

Nei­ther I nor my class­mates had any idea how this worked, of course, but that never stopped us try­ing to “dial up” lit­tle know­ing we needed a mo­dem, or even that the com­puter had to be con­nected to a tele­phone line.

It seems ridicu­lous now, two decades on. Es­pe­cially in this era of 4G mo­bile in­ter­net and per­ma­nently con­nected home broad­band modems. But for a lot of my for­ma­tive years, the only in­ter­net I knew was dial-up and it was, quite frankly, rub­bish.

Not that I minded, of course. The very con­cept was mind-blow­ing. I used it to make new friends in far flung places and, for the first time, I could eas­ily com­mu­ni­cate with those out­side my lim­ited sphere of ex­is­tence.

I felt the same way about the early mo­bile in­ter­net — in prac­tice it was demon­stra­bly ter­ri­ble, but the idea of it was not.

Smash cut to to­day, and not only can hand­held de­vices stream high def­i­ni­tion movies and play aug­mented re­al­ity games, but they can also or­der you a cab, pay for your shop­ping or even find you a pub­lic bike that is al­most free to use.

The last item in that list is the lat­est tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance here in China to truly en­thrall me. Now, with a sim­ple app, I can find a bike, scan the at­tached QR code and ride it to the near­est sub­way sta­tion, all for less than the price of a bot­tle of wa­ter.

As some­one who doesn’t own a bi­cy­cle, I’ve found this to be a rev­e­la­tion. So long as I have my smart­phone on me, my mo­bil­ity is as­sured.

It still re­quires that I cy­cle of course, some­thing that the slightly bet­ter es­tab­lished ride-hail­ing apps do not. And who knows if these bike-shar­ing com­pa­nies will ac­tu­ally be able to turn a profit?

But as a cheap and cheer­ful way of get­ting me from my house to the sub­way, my only won­der is why some­one didn’t think of it be­fore.

Con­tact the writer at gre­gory@chi­


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