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What a mixed day the first of the month’s been. It started off really well with a Zoom call as part of judging the Community Rail Awards. It was a very positive and informative hour that taught me something completely new that led to this blog. I’m not a great fan of Zoom meetings. They’ve filled a gap left by Covid but anyone who thinks they;re a genuine replacement for face-to-face contact needs their bumps feeling.

After we finished I had half an hour to get a brisk walk in before going into another very different event, which was the Siemens (online) press lunch conducted on Teams.

Normally Siemens organise an annual press lunch where we can all get together and talk with the companies UK Directors personally over a few hours at a very nice lunch in London. Obviously, the present situation precludes that, but Siemens understand the importnace of maintaining contact with people and arranged an online event. Those registering even got sent a lunchbox!

Despite the shortcomings of the platform and a few minor technical difficulties it was a very useful and informative event that allowed us all to discuss what’s going on at the moment and the issues that face the transport industry. Although not just now – as Covid is a blip – but in the near and far future. The burning post-Covid issue being decarbonisation. Yet again it was another event that made me realise why we’ll never stop meeting face to face, no matter what some people claim.

Having had my fill of meetings on the internet I escaped to confinesof the digital world to go for a stroll in the real one and soak up some of the Autumn sun before the sun set and I was trapped back in the web-world, catching up on work – and writing blogs like this, as well as looking for a picture of the day – and the one I’ve chosen from the archives is this…

The picture is of a stallholder in a market in Luang Prabang, Laos, which I took on the 6th January 2009. Like most pictures, it tells a story, but the story it tells isn’t always obvious.

The woman is plucking a chicken she’s selling whilst she’s on her mobile phone. The phone is the story. Laos is a country where much of its traditional infrastructure was bombed back to the ‘stone age’* by the Americans during the Vietnam war. Like most developing countries it found rebuilding hard. But then technology’s changed. One thing I noticed as I travelled through Loas was the number of wagons I saw on the highways carrying lattice steel masts for mobile phone networks. It’s those networks that are changing the face of the world.

Let me explain.

When I first went to India in 1985 many villages had only just got electricity. Many still had not. Once electricity (through a national grid) arrived, phones started arriving. Then televisions. In those days the Government donated a TV to villages. The TV would be kept in the local hall or temple and I vividly remember passing through villages where everyone would be gathered together to watch the latest Hindi soap-opera or religious film together. There was no individual connectivity to information – and only a state-run TV channel. Now, you can argue the merits/demerits when it comes to propaganda as is your whim. That’s not my point.

My point is how much infrastucture has leapfrogged from those times because of the advent of two things. Mobile communication technology and cheap solar power – as the Loations were finding out. Suddenly, all people needed was a cheap (often recyled) mobile phone and the world was literally their Oyster. There was no waiting for 30 years for power lines to arrive, just a phone mast.

Access to communication is a fabulous thing, but it’s also a double-edged sword, as we’ve seen in the past decade with the advent of weapons-grade misinformation through places like Facebook.

Are the Loations better off now? Time will tell..

* Bombing people back to the stone age has been a popular threat in American history.

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