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NEXT: The Future of Mobility

David Staley David Staley NEXT: The Future of MobilityA drone carries a package for delivery. Photo via Flickr.
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When we use the word “mobility” today, we are talking about the infrastructure for moving people around in the world. Much of the talk about mobility, especially in Columbus, has to do with autonomous vehicles and the role they will be playing in how we move from place to place. But scooters, bicycles, light rail, even Hyperloop are all parts of the debate about how we will transport ourselves across the city and across the region. (Note, I do not include the internal combustion engine automobile in this description).

But, I believe that our ideas about mobility — indeed the very definition of mobility itself — will be changing over the next 10 years. Rather than referring to the movement of the individual in the world, mobility will refer to the movement of the world to the individual.

Take UberEats as one example of this trend. Food delivery is nothing new, of course, but what is different with UberEats is the restaurant quality of the delivery in question. Downloads from restaurant delivery apps such as DoorDash, Postmates, and GrubHub are up 380 percent over the last three years, and predictions suggest that sales from restaurant deliveries could reach $76 billion annually over the next four years. Some restaurants are reducing the amount of space devoted to tables and chairs and replacing these with shelves for pickup orders. Indeed, some restaurants are reducing the overall square footage of their operations.

There are examples now of start-up restaurants called “cloud kitchens” that are nothing but kitchen space — no tables or chairs or waitstaff. Cloud kitchens instead prepare food for couriers to deliver through mobile apps.

The Peloton indoor exercise bike allows a rider to “bring the bike tour to you,” in your living room. One need not travel to a gym to engage in a spinning class, when this can be done at home. It is another example of making “reality” more mobile and deliverable.

It hardly needs to be stated that Amazon is investing in the infrastructure of delivery, and have extended the range of products that can be delivered, and the speed at which that delivery can occur. Amazon is working toward same-day delivery across the country; one wonders if we will ever again travel to a retail establishment when it will be so much easier to order online in the morning, with the knowledge that the delivery will happen later in the day.

Many of the predictions in the movie 2001 A Space Odyssey have not come to pass, but the video telephone depicted on the screen is one invention that is ubiquitous today. Video calls are easy to make, even from a mobile device, with such great resolution that business meetings via Skype are a regular feature of the workplace today.

As virtual reality applications become cheaper and with reality-like fidelity, there is every reason to believe that a host of activities — from business meetings to classroom instruction — will be carried out virtually. The NBA makes basketball games available over a host of VR platforms, promising a court-side seat to the best games. It would be another case where someone might remain more rooted in place, while the rest of the world is brought to them.

The ever increasing “mobility of the world” will very likely become a class and status marker. Those with the wealth will have a greater portion of reality brought to them. Those on the lower end of the economic spectrum will have to figure out ways to move their bodies from Point A to Point B.

David Staley is Director of the Humanities Institute and a professor at The Ohio State University. He is president of Columbus Futurists and host of CreativeMornings Columbus.

The next CreativeMornings Columbus will be Friday, Dec. 14 at 8:30 a.m. at 400 W. Rich, Ohio Art League X Space. Jackie Kemble will speak on the theme “Tradition.”

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