Smarter or Dumber?

Today, almost everything is prefixed with the word “smart.” From phones, watches, TVs, to homes. Now, even cities are called smart. Almost all of the things we interact with today are made smarter by technological advancements. This might sound good, but are we really ready for smarter things? Better yet, we should probably ask the question, “Is this making us smarter or dumber?

In the past month, I’ve read a lot about sustainability and development and smart cities. This made me think of the transition cities are going and will go through (maybe for others, have gone through). More of pondering on, where do we want to go and how do we get there? Emphasis on the we part because it’s us who will be living in these smart cities.

According to The Open University’s Smart Cities course, there’s no standard definition of a smart city. It has a lot of variations. If we can’t really define what a smart city is, we have to at least know what’s in it. Smart cities are made up of core elements which are (a) citizens, (b) infrastructure, technology, and data, (c) innovation and enterprise, (d) leadership and strategy, and (e) measurement and learning. So, how are smart cities made?

Development means progress towards improvement. Sustainability is bringing change that would positively impact the current situation while also considering its impacts on the next generations. Sustainable development is marrying the two which means achieving economic growth whilst preserving the environmental health of our planet.  The question arises, “How do we sustainably develop smart cities?” In this context, I think the solutions to the biggest risks faced by smart cities suggested by Robert Muggah are very helpful. He highlighted 1. smart planning and smart strategy, 2. smarter should also be greener, 3. integrated multi-solutions, 4. density and sustainability, 5. stealing good ideas, and 6. working in global coalitions.

Focusing on the first core element, which is citizens, this correlates to smart planning and smart strategy which is the first solution to the problems smart cities face. What smart cities must do foremost is planning. Moreover, ‘smart planning.’ Without this, building a smart city would either be impossible or it would be a disaster. Smart planning relies heavily on citizen engagement. Citizen engagement simply means involvement in problem identification and formulation of solutions.

People must be able to identify the role they want to play in a smart city. There are different types of citizens such as consumers who are simply users of products and services, producers who supply the data, prosumers which are somewhat hybrids who use and share data, and co-creators who engages on collaboration. I believe that the real development of smart cities comes from its smart citizens. It is essential to share knowledge since this quickly improves smart city initiatives.  By taking an active role in the making of smart cities even as non-experts, citizens are becoming smarter like the cities. Collaboration can make a big difference.

My take on this is it’s not enough that we use smart-this-and-that without knowing the implications of the things we’re utilizing. Do you really want everything else around you to be smarter than you or do you want to be dumber than smart-everything-else? To be truly empowered “smart citizens”, we must have knowledge because as the proverb goes, “Knowledge is power.