High-speed progress isn’t without issues
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