De–skilling through Technology: friend and foe

Once, and for a mercifully short time, I lived on the very western edge of Bournemouth. You might recall that Ford considered his article for the Guide describing how to have a good time in Bournemouth to be one of his finest pieces of fiction. So, I was often wanting to go away, farther away than I could sensibly go on my pseudo-vintage motorcycle in what time was available. That meant going from the County Gates to Bournemouth railway station. This could be done on the cramped, slow local bus or at great expense by taxi.

But I noticed that the long–distance coaches coming in from the even further south and west of England made one last stop before Bournemouth Coach Station (adjacent to the railway station) in Westbourne, just around the corner from me. These coaches are large, have luggage space and go fast on major roads. And the on–line booking system did not blink an electronic eye at me buying and downloading to print out a 90 pence ticket to ride from Westbourne to Bournemouth. The drivers of the coaches did blink when I got on there, but I had a ticket so they shrugged and went about their business. That's nice. Imagine the counter–arguments that would likely come from a human ticket agent who knows only too well the various alternatives to doing so preposterous a thing as riding a long–haul coach half–way across the town where you live.

Now, much more recently I was on the very edge of the very agreeable city of Charlotte, North Carolina. I had been down–town to check out the excellent Mint Museum. Being a citizen of the Socialist People's Republic of Europe I naturally tried to do the journey by public transport. Charlotte has a pretty good public transport system, C.A.T.S. However, it turned out that the bus service that would otherwise run from exactly the last stop of the light rail system (the "Lynx") to exactly my hotel was not running that day. Nice try, but I have to do the last few miles by cab. Now, I am a stranger to the city and am in any case in a fairly obscure part of it. I call a cab company and while I can explain with a certain degree of accuracy where I want to go, I don't know where I am.

And that's a problem.

The cabs are guided by GPS, so they need an exact street address for pickup and set down. This is so that the drivers do not need to know their way around. That's a pretty shocking concept for a resident of London, where cab drivers know their way around so well it changes their brains. Troublesome de–skill #1.

All I know is that I'm at the last stop of the Blue Line, but I don't know where that is. And neither does the dispatcher at the cab company—after all, all they do is pass on the co–ordinates of two places they don't know the location of to drivers who don't know the route between them. De–skill #2. Luckily for me, the dispatcher thought that they knew someone who might be able to figure out where this Lynx station was. I should call back in a few minutes. I do so, and by virtue of the elevated situation of the station I can call off enough landmarks (that is, names of shopping malls) for this person at the other end to work out where I am. My hotel, for some reason, they can look up very easily.

Some time later a cab rolls up. And it turns out that all this marvellous de–skilling has been wasted because the guy is a veteran driver and knows the district like the back of his hand.

Also, once I'm seated and strapped in, his first question is: so, where are we going?