Connected

It’s one of those days when patterns start forming in rapid succession. Many of them are invisible, and they’re about to change how our cities work, how we learn, and how we collaborate. I no longer wonder if the patterns I see are a coincidence. They’re not. They signal a confluence of skills, ideas, innovations, and the will to change things for the better in a rapidly changing world. Here’s how my day begins:

I’m on a conference call with Tony Douglas, who works in mobility services at BMW in Munich. He’s describing the company’s BMWi program, which is about to change how we think of urban transportation. These electric cars (with carbon-fiber chassis) will be deployed on the West Coast by late summer and on the East Coast by the end of the year. The services they offer are a direct outgrowth of our familiar smartphone technology. Through these small, handheld devices you’ll be able to reserve a car, find a parking space and a charging station. But the connectivity goes beyond the automotive; in fact, even people like me who don’t drive will be able to take advantage of this multimodal system. We’ll connect to all available transportation options—in New York that means finding out about the next bus, train, plane, and bike-sharing programs.

After hearing about this efficient information system, I realize I cannot go on working at my desk today. The paper pileup next to my keyboard is hiding the command keys. As I dig through the pile, my notes appear from a panel I moderated this past winter on the digital architecture studio, held in Boston by the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture. The four schools presenting included a graduate program from the Boston Architecture College, where a class of 15 students is scattered around the world. They bond through common problem solving in their digital studio. They get their instructional materials through an open-source wiki, and eventually an intense face-to-face experience. By the time these students get together, they know all about each other through their social networks as well as the problem-solving skills they’ve exhibited online.

Another pattern of connectivity preoccupies me today. I’m about to fly to Chicago to attend NeoCon, the annual contract-furnishings trade show. And I’m worrying about how to frame my talk to the ASID and IIDA Fellows at their unprecedented joint meeting there. These two interior design organizations are setting on a new and potentially groundbreaking course. They’re asking: How do we present a united front to the public as well as to the diverse profession? In previous years, the word “merger” would have been bandied about. But today, in our connected world, such potentially homogenizing approaches feel out of touch. The idea is to enrich the profession’s knowledge base through the information that resides in each group.

As new patterns form in transportation, education, and collaboration, I finally understand the game-changing meaning of a familiar but narrowly interpreted phrase, “World Wide Web,” to be an intense and fruitful connection between information, places, and people.

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