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We are so smart, we don’t have answers to our own questions

Photo by drmakete lab on Unsplash

Smart cities are talked about as if they are a real eventuality in the future. Our cities can evolve in a direction which is smart or intelligent only if we first know ourselves up to a certain degree. Knowing ourselves is not easy. But it is doable. Why is self-knowledge a pre-condition to the realization of smart cities? Because with self-knowledge we can participate in verbal duels that challenge ideas which matter to us. Something is at stake. This way we have a chance of becoming smart. A city with smart people can become a smart city. Smart cities are able to accommodate the personalities of its residents. What each person feels – matters and makes a difference. But how? How do cities befriend and get to know the individuals behind the crowds?

It is not easy and it takes special effort to do so. But which are the tools that can be employed? This is the most detailed and pain-staking kind of user research. I have thought of many ways of doing this – in fact the Neighbourhood Tag Boxes project is directed towards this end. Knowing the individuals behind the crowd is very important for another reason. The city planners typically work with personas and general profiles to think of how the city should be shaped. These personas are based on generalizations if they are based on actual knowledge of individuals instead – the process will become more helpful and precise.

Neighbourhood Tag Boxes is one way of generating this actual knowledge. Which other ways can be used? Individuals can be known by playing with them, screening films for them and then having discussion, asking them to narrate stories about their experience of fun and joy so far in life…

But before knowing strangers, we have to understand how we get to know our friends. What we call friendship implies knowing our friend’s likes and dislikes. We know somebody’s likes and dislikes by sharing their lives and by being around them in their moments of joy and episodes of grief. We know our friends by observing how they will react to different scenarios.

If we create a situation in which people can reveal how they would respond to different scenarios, then their attitudes and perspectives can be known. How do we create such a situation? We can create such a situation by the means of a game that is played by a group to get to know the group members. The trick would then be to select and invite a diverse enough group of people to play the game. What kind of situation would need to be created? What would be a good pretext to persuade people to open up and share?

People often share honestly either when they are with close friends only. So what would motivate them to open up and share with comparative strangers? This is indeed a question worth answering. Also it is a question we do not know the answer to with a lot of surety right now. Maybe, there can be a question of victory and loss that is introduced in the game? Victory could be a motivating agent? It could also become an incentive to behave dishonestly. Because if glory is available, why not?

If one must lie to win, so be it. So, what is a fool proof way to make people act in a desirable way? Anybody who knows this will be able to do what s/he wants to without much difficulty. But the tragedy is that nobody or at least a very few know this. And those who know are not telling.

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