I recently took a trip to London. It was my second time visiting the city, after a gap of more than eight years, and there had been more changes than the Olympics and the marriage of Prince William. During my time in London, I was struck by the differences in the technology I used now compared to my first visit. While things have changed everywhere, not merely across the pond, the reality of navigating an unfamiliar city at two points in time illustrated the changes sharply.
In 2004, I remember the indignity of pulling out a huge paper map on the street corner, announcing to everyone with eyes I had no idea where I was. The map fluttering in the breeze, I picked out streets and plotted my course. It remains one of my most vivid memories of London, but the second time I visited, papers map had become history. My GPS-enabled smartphone took care of all mapping needs, without requiring me to hide behind a massive paper screen. And no need to pull out the guidebook to find a nearby pub, as the mapping feature also showed me points of interest, shops, and restaurants.
Sometimes I forget how much my life has changed thanks to GPS mapping on my phone, but being in London brought it all back. I also remembered my first ride on London’s Underground subway system. I had a paper ticket that I put in the slot on one side of the turnstile and picked up at another slot on the other side. Convenient in its way, but nothing like my second trip.
This time I bought an Oyster card. It’s a smart, contactless payment card that I just touched to the reader, and the gate swung open. I could use the same card the entire time, and it uses radio frequency technology to communicate and exchange data with the card reader.
It was all too easy! When leaving the country, I was reminded of the nightmare that used to be printing my boarding pass. For some reason, printing out my pass ahead of my flight never went smoothly. The Internet went down, or the printer ran out of ink or paper, or the pass came out all smeared. And what about the return trip when my hotel had no available printer? What was supposed to be a convenience turned into a hassle.
But no more. This time I downloaded my electronic boarding pass to my phone while out and about in London—I think I did it while sipping a pint of bitter. When checking in and boarding I simply scanned it at the reader and all my data zipped its way to the proper channels. This is how things should work, I thought as I stepped onto the plane.