Open Source Computing and GIS in the UK

Travels in a digital world

Assuming People Are Always Connected

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All Points Blog pointed me at the direction of a piece on the mess of mapping and postcode data in Northern Ireland, which got me thinking a bit about this rush to rely on location-based services and always-on connections to “the cloud/interweb”.

At first glance, the situation in Ireland (National Mapping agency has copyright on maps, Post Office has copyright on property location) sounds very familiar. However, Ireland doesn’t have postcodes yet, so things are a not so cut and dried- in this day and age, if you had to go to an awful lot of trouble to implement a system for locating properties, would you invent the postcode system or something else?

What worries me though, is this assumption that the best solution is a technological one. Apparently LBS are the way forward, so much so that your Gran will know her position (in lat/long or a local coordinate system? not sure) the same way that she now knows her address. If she doesn’t remember it, then she can go to her mobile device or google maps and find it out. Clearly this writer is very lucky that he lives in an ultra-connected area with great GPS/phone signal, never has a powercut and has an entire family/social network of technologically adept people who won’t bat an eyelid at this.

It is only in the last 50 years that power of some kind has been laid on to every house in the UK, after many decades of trying. I think it’s dangerous to assume that ubiquitous computing will reach all areas and all social classes in a few years, and it’s also dangerous to assume that everyone will jump into it whole-heartedly to such an extent that you could rely on it totally for critical infrastructure like postal services.