High-speed progress isn’t with­out is­sues

China Daily (USA) - - SECOND THOUGHTS - Con­tact the writer at david@ chi­nadaily.com.cn

Tech­nol­ogy can do won­der­ful things.

Take the in­ter­net, for in­stance. Not too long ago, if you wanted to buy some­thing spe­cial you had to travel to a town or city, look in var­i­ous shops and hope they had the item you wanted. If they didn’t, you might have to get some­thing you liked less, or per­haps or­der what you re­ally wanted and re­turn for it an­other time.

Fast for­ward to this year and now you could be naked sit­ting on the sofa at 2 am, with just a cell­phone for com­pany, and you’d be able to or­der a pink grand piano, book a hol­i­day in the Solomon Is­lands and ar­range for some Ital­ian food to be de­liv­ered (al­though it might be ad­vis­able to put some clothes on when the food ar­rives).

China is, of course, these days at the fore­front of the march of tech­nol­ogy.

It makes its own air­lin­ers, it has high-speed trains, leads the way with cash­less pay­ments and does all sorts of clever things with rock­ets and satel­lites.

But some­times I feel that it hasn’t quite grasped what tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances are for.

I think the gen­eral idea is that these in­ven­tions should be stream­lin­ing our lives, tak­ing away the an­noy­ing stuff and leav­ing us with the ben­e­fits. But some­how this doesn’t al­ways seem to hap­pen.

Take bank­ing for in­stance. Fin­tech — fi­nan­cial tech­nol­ogy — is of­ten men­tioned as one of the ar­eas where China is lead­ing the way.

But no one told them that at my lo­cal bank, where last Fri­day I spent a whole hour at­tempt­ing to trans­fer money to my home coun­try, David Bogle the United King­dom.

I had to sign pieces of paper of var­i­ous col­ors, have all my doc­u­ments copied, get pieces of paper stamped, have my picture taken. I wouldn’t mind, but they did ex­actly the same thing last month — and the month be­fore. What hap­pened to stor­ing in­for­ma­tion on a data­base? What hap­pened to fin­tech?

Then there’s the high­speed trains. I took a short jour­ney on one at the week­end, glid­ing noise­lessly to my des­ti­na­tion in air-con­di­tioned com­fort at 200 kilo­me­ters per hour. Won­der­ful. China’s rail ser­vice should have my own coun­try hang­ing its head in shame.

But the process of ac­tu­ally get­ting on to the train was a night­mare. For a half-hour jour­ney I had to spend an hour at the sta­tion — each way. There was jostling in huge crowds for se­cu­rity checks, jostling in huge crowds for ticket con­for­ma­tion and then jostling in huge crowds to be al­lowed on to the plat­form where the train was wait­ing. OK China, you made a great train — but couldn’t you have ap­plied some ex­per­tise to make board­ing it more pleas­ant? The train is a First World ex­pe­ri­ence — get­ting on it is a Third World ex­pe­ri­ence.

It isn’t enough just to come up with a new in­ven­tion or ser­vice. You need to in­cor­po­rate it into a wholly sat­is­fy­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. That’s progress.

Still, in the coun­try’s de­fense, China has come up with most of its marvelous de­vel­op­ments in just 40 years, whereas my coun­try took hun­dreds of years to get to a sim­i­lar stage. And when it comes to rail­ways, I bet the UK is still lag­ging be­hind in an­other 100 years. Graeme El­der

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