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Subtle differences

First publishedon www.ITSInternational.com
2010 September October
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Editor of ITS International
Jason Barnes, Editor of ITS International
Too often, when I sit down to write one of these forewords, I worry that things are becoming a little circular. In my head, over and again, I come back to the importance of language. It's hardly surprising, I'm an editor and semantics and synonyms are my stock in trade, but right now I'm thinking that occasionally the wheel does actually need re-inventing.

On pages 32-33 of this edition, Jack Opiola looks at the effects on public perception of how we term such unpalatable concepts as paying more for a journey we already make. Eva Söderberg, on pages 35-36, talks about the significant efforts which went into persuading the inhabitants of Stockholm that congestion charging would work, and how this will shape developments in Gothenburg in the near future. Both articles underline the importance of getting the public on side.

To technologists, the benefits of scientific advancement are clear. Resistance to change is illogical, therefore. But it's not as clear-cut as that. Douglas Adams, the Sci-Fi writer and dramatist once put it thus: "I've come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies. 1. Anything that is in the world when you're born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. 2. Anything that's invented between when you're fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. 3. Anything invented after you're thirty-five is against the natural order of things." As ever, he combined humour with more than a touch of insight. Adams's words are particularly apposite in the case of transportation, precisely because the early adopters of technology tend to be the younger members of society. That has both positive and negative consequences. It means, for instance, that there are a lot of young go-getters out there who are quite happy to latch onto any passing app that will facilitate greater mobility. It also means that trickle-down of state-of-the-art in-vehicle technologies will probably be slower than might otherwise be the case because top-of-the-range cars tend to be bought by the more financially established and technology conservative.

In other words, we can't assume that many of the traditional entries to market are going to work in achieving the connectivity-soaked transportation Utopia we're all supposed to be striving towards. That in itself isn't a new or especially striking observation but I think we're still a long way away from the melding of so-called 'hard' and 'soft' sciences which we really need to achieve great strides forward. I wouldn't want to detract from the technological development effort but there's probably a good case for policymakers to look again at, well, the policy. If we can rely on the technology to deliver pretty much anything we want it to - and I think we can - then we need to look at what makes people tick... both in terms of how they think and how they vote.

It's all about comfort, although 'comfort' can be quite a relative term because sometimes the resistance to change can be quite intense. Ask a psychologist, for instance, why a battered wife or husband stays with the spouse who causes so much physical and mental pain and you'll too often be told it's because no matter how awful a current existence is, it is at least familiar. Note: not better, but a somehow known quantity.

I make no apology for using such an extreme and awkward example because it demonstrates precisely my point. It also shows that in engendering change we have to use every weapon in our arsenal, including mere words. The mere technology is not nearly enough.

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