A Top Technology Journalist Looks At The New Transportation World

By Claudia Payne

New York Times journalist Steve Lohr

Rethinking how we get around is, among other things, a commitment to sharing. Sharing vehicles, sharing space and, most critically, sharing information.

Sharing may seem natural if you are a digital native. But, it’s less so if you are among the generations that came of age when a personal office was a declaration of success, and an automobile a declaration of independence.

If sharing is intrinsic to rethinking the way we get around, how are the masters of the information world taking part?

For insight, we turned to a master of information-age journalism: Steve Lohr, the senior technology reporter at The New York Times and a long-time colleague of mine and Micki Maynard’s. He was part of the 2013 team that won the Pulitzer Prize for its look into Apple’s business practices.

As a reporter whose job it is to cast a skeptical eye on the frenzied start-up scene, Steve has always invoked a test of scalability: Does a project have what it takes to grow efficiently and exponentially?

We asked him how the tech world is viewing the new world of transportation. He told us:

“My technologically astute friends who spend a lot of time in cars are big fans of Waze, a crowd-sharing traffic and navigation app.

In case you haven’t heard of Waze, it is what is known as a social mapping service. The basic idea is that users voluntarily allow the GPS data from their smartphones to be gathered and shared, but stripped of personally identifying information. The result is a smartphone application that shows local traffic, congestion and suggests alternative routes. The Waze tagline is: “Outsmarting traffic, together.”Waze is a neat idea and its software is well designed – the work of a small entrepreneurial team split between Israel and Silicon Valley. The fledgling start-up was sold to Google two months ago for more than $1 billion.

The suddenly wealthy Waze founders, and the app’s millions of loyal users, owe a debt to Ronald Reagan. After Korean Air Flight 007 was shot down in 1983, after it accidentally strayed into Soviet air space, Reagan issued a directive that the Global Positioning System – on the drawing boards at the time – would be freely available for civilian use.

The space-based satellite navigation system traces its origins to the 1970s. But the 24 satellites that became the foundation of today’s GPS network were launched between 1989 and 1994. The program cost the Pentagon, which is to say American taxpayers, about $5 billion. The Reagan edict created the basis for the commercial spread of GPS technology.

At the time, the public good in mind was making civilian airline navigation safer. No one could have conceived of a smartphone application like Waze, to help the car-bound save time, aggravation and gas.

But that is so often the way technology has evolved. From GPS to the Internet itself, the early physical infrastructure and underlying science were seeded by government investment. Then, it is up to risk-taking entrepreneurs to build products, markets and fortunes.”

How do you feel about sharing more and more parts of your life, from cars to bikes and your personal data? We’d like to hear your comfort level with what’s happening — and how it is benefiting you.

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