Last weekend, I went on a somewhat voluntary digital sabbatical. I was switching mobile phones and ended up selling my current phone before my new phone was going to arrive, which meant that I was going to be “phoneless” for about 24h. Most people reacted in complete disbelief upon hearing this, but I still went ahead with it, because I genuinely wanted to know what it’s like not to have a phone for a day. What I learned: not only are the best products and services indispensable, but it’s difficult to imagine what life was like before their existence.
In this case, I am not speaking about the phone itself actually, but I am specifically referring to certain applications. On Thursday evening, I had plans to play football and given that I don’t own a car, I always use ride-sharing applications such as Careem or Uber to go to the football center. However, on that particular evening, I didn’t have a phone, which meant I had to resort to a now seemingly low-fi solution for finding rides: I had to walk around in the busy streets of Dubai Marina and try to hail a cab.
So, after a 5–10 minute wait, I finally find a taxi, get inside and tell the driver what the destination is: he starts the meter and then tells me that he doesn’t know this particular football center, which happens to be one of the most popular places to play football in all of Dubai. While surprised, I calmly ask him whether he would mind checking Google Maps to get directions. After all, I don’t have a phone. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have internet on his phone.
Okay, let’s think. Would you mind calling a friend who could help with directions, I ask? Not happy at all about my questions which seem very much out of order to him, he reluctantly calls somebody, has a loud and agitated two-minute conversation and then falls silent again. Evident that he won’t say anything, I follow up: do you know the directions now? No, he answers, but continues to drive. I ask him to please stop the meter, so I can pay and leave to find another taxi. He doesn’t like that solution either: he apparently wants to wander around in the poorly lit streets of Al Quoz, until we magically find the destination.
After paying the driver, I manage to get out of the taxi and then go on to literally run around the Dubai Marina streets for 15 min, stopping 5 taxis, none of whom know this location. Finally, I find a driver, who, while not knowing where this location is, is kind enough to use Google Maps to get directions. I am so desperate, I even offer to pay for his internet, which he is kind enough not to accept. The entire experience forces me to face a situation that was a daily reality not too long ago: life before ride-sharing applications.
And honestly, I don’t want to go back to that reality.
The convenience of hailing a ride on your phone, knowing when it will arrive and where it has to go and just paying through your phone is something that I have taken for granted so quickly, I don’t even remember what life was like before that. If you look at the most transformational technology products, they all have those two characteristics: they are so compelling that you take them for granted extremely quickly and they become such an integral part of your daily life, that you can’t imagine what life was like before them. Just try to imagine what you used to do before Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, etc.
Difficult to imagine and a world I wouldn’t want to go back to.