a city through the eyes of a girl who's not sure how she ended up here

Friday, 21 January 2011

iLondon - our virtual city

Finally I have succumbed. After months of lusting after the iPhones of my friends, and feeling as if technological advancement were passing me by, I have taken delivery of my very own iPhone. And I love it. The ability to check one's emails and even do a little internet research from the bus has given me a tiny fraction of extra time in each day.  And, who am I kidding, it just looks so pretty!

I am not the only Londoner under the spell of a smartphone. (As I type I can hear a constant pinging from the iPhone belonging to the kind man who has come to fit my new oven. The noise is a price worth paying however; he reckons that the oven he is ripping out has probably been here since the original conversion of my building into flats, i.e. since 1983.  It was older than me!  But I digress...)  The streets are full of iPhones, Blackberries and HTC handsets. They are clutched in hands, and sandwiched between ear and chin.  And their shiny faces are so beguiling that Londoners seem unable to tear their eyes away from them. Smartphone-users walk the streets of London, eyes down, and index finger trailing across the screen. They weave slowly through the more alert pavement users, phones held out before them as they were using them yas some sort of water-divining device.

But the numerous inbuilt features of Smartphones indicate that they were made for cities.  You've got your GPS (in case you can't remember where you are).  You've got your compass (in case knowing which way is North is any help when you can't remember where you are).  You've got your internet access (in case you need to check when the last tube is running or when the Waitrose on Holloway Road shuts, once you've worked out where you are).  However all this useful information is usually displayed so tiny on one's screen that, although knowledgable, one looks a bit of an idiot squinting at a map with one's eye an inch from one's phone. Plus due to the handy accelerometer in many of these Smartphones, your map is likely to spin round if you tilt your screen by accident. And you end up confused and lost again!

If all those treats, besides the ability to actually make a phone call, were not enough, there is more city-living help to be found in the shape of the plentiful downloadable apps that you can festoon across the menu of your phone. You can arrange for yourself a virtual smorgasbord of maps, service locators and even perfectly pointless games to while away the hours of tedium spent on TfL's miserable tube trains and buses. London's Time Out magazine provides an app version of its handy "what's on" service.  You can download location services which point you to the nearest public loo (the delightfully named "Toiluxe" app), or cup of decent, non-Starbucks coffee. The Museum of the City of London has a fascinating app which, using your inbuilt GPS, shows you historic photographs of the street or park in which you are currently standing.

Gone are the days of the A-Z book; papery maps across a hundred pages replaced by the neverending pixels of its electronic cousin. Smartphones may teach us much about our city's history and open our eyes to its vast wealth of opportunities and excitments. Yet with our faces glued to our tiny luminescent screens we miss much of the city we pass through. We are not looking at the people, or at the architecture. We are ignoring the exciting street drama which unfolds around us. Eyes down, are we really immersed in our real urban world? Or are we living in a parallel world, lived through our technology? Are we living in London...or iLondon?

4 comments:

  1. Hi there

    My name's Jason Dunne - I created the Toiluxe app in conjunction with its programmer, David Masters. I just wanted to say thanks so much for taking the time to mention my app. I agree with you when you say that there's a lot we miss when we glue ourselves to screens, but sometimes the screen illuminates our surroundings too - I guess it's all about balance and discipline (shame!).

    You might enjoy my latest app, for finding London's famous Blue Plaques. I blog about it here: http://www.blueplaquesapp.com/

    ...and it's on iTunes here: http://bit.ly/eoJNDR

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  2. Hi Jason, thanks for your comment and please do keep me posted on your new apps for London. The blue plaque app sounds fascinating.

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  3. That was amusing - but I got here by clicking on the Boris Bikes link

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  4. Oops, bit of a mis-tag there. Sorry DH! Glad you found it amusing though!

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