Shanghai Surprise

— June 08, 2007

As we put together this global-focused issue, I traveled to Shanghai for a Mobility Summit with HP. I left this editorial for the flight home, imagining all of the innovative technologies I'd see and want to detail. It was China not Japan, yes. But still, outside of the stunning hotel where my hosts made their announcements - HP released 13 new laptops, an MDM solution, mobile video solutions and more, and the building itself eye-catchingly pulsed jags of white lights up the silver sides of its 65 floors - my jaw kind of failed to drop.

In the shiny new shopping malls where I spent my first day (I arrived on a United flight, but sadly my luggage did not), my receipts were handwritten - a far cry from the mobile point-of-sale solutions so prevalent in Barcelona during the 3GSM show. But then, mobile POS is a smart security strategy in a city where many of us heard of disappearing wallets, laptops and purses. This magazine has long preached about not deploying technology for the sake of technology, and I was glad to realize that both cities had deployed just what they needed.

In a recent article in The New Yorker on what drives - and what exactly institutes - technology, Steven Shapin writes: "The story of how we came to terms with the new technology - how we adjusted to it, adapted it, domesticated it, altered it to suit our purposes - didn't come with the technical spec sheet. It never does. No instruction manual can explain how a technology will evolve, in use, together with the rhythm of our lives."

At one point HP led us outside to test a GPS application, though on the pretty Nanjing pedestrian street it felt gratuitous. There was no doubting, however, the usefulness of the Skype application I called home with that morning, or the text messages I sent to colleagues, as T-Mobile seamlessly handed off to a local GSM carrier. The best technology (however that's defined) is the one that helps us get the job done. And this is where Shanghai shined. All around us the city's hardest workers were making innovative use of technologies new and old: The man who'd redesigned the bags on his scooter to carry 30 gallons of bottled water for delivery. The woman who'd transformed her bicycle into a mobile breakfast cart.

This was technology evolving, though through a different frame.

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