Stop trying to put all knowledge in your head. Your brain is a terrible storage medium for information. Put it where it belongs: in the software. And learn how to use it.
I was in Berlin recently for a conference (Tech Open Air Berlin). The event took place at a venue called Funkhaus, which was quite far from my hotel in Berlin Mitte. What I normally do in such a situation is open my Uber app, tell it where I want to go, and then Uber’s software sends me a driver who then takes me where I want to go.
Sadly, Uber is not available in Berlin because politicians sell their souls to lobbyists who stifle all attempts at innovation from the outside without offering any reasonable equivalent. So I had to experience the fascinating service of the traditional German taxi industry.
I hailed a taxi with a horrible app called MyTaxi which lacks all the features that make Uber so incredibly useful. No built-in payments, no ratings, no ride management. Just a loud shout “I’m here!” to all available taxis and then someone might come, if you pray hard enough.
Beyond expectations, a taxi arrived, and I told the driver I wanted to go to Funkhaus, but he said he didn’t know where that was. Huge buildings, big event, a thousand or more attendees, but the taxi driver had never heard of it. Seemed weird to me, but OK, no problem. Nobody can know everything, I suppose. As philosopher Donald Trump once said, “Nobody knew how hard this job is.” But thankfully, the machines at Google know.
“Just type ‘Funkhaus’ on Google Maps. That worked for me,” I said. The taxi driver started fumbling with his smartphone and asked me for the address. Why did he want the address? How many Funkhauses are there in Berlin? But I didn’t ask and gave him the street name: Nalepastrasse. He then asked me for the street number. “I don’t have a number, just a street name”, I said. The event organizers only published the street name. A bit obvious because the place was so big, it was practically the only thing in the whole street. They might as well have called it Funkhaus Street rather than Nalepastrasse. But no, the taxi driver was undeterred. He needed an exact address, or else he couldn’t go. He possibly imagined Nalepastrasse winding itself all around East Germany, which it doesn’t. A German thing, perhaps.
And then, I kid you not, the driver took out a big, old, withered street book of Berlin, with hundreds of pages of street names and neighborhood maps. My jaw dropped to the floor of the car. The last time I saw a book like that was around 1997. I thought that it was probably a prank. Someone is having some fun with me. There is surely a camera somewhere. Next thing, the driver might ask me if it’s OK to go to Checkpoint Charlie instead because he knows where it is. I tried to stay friendly. I could be on German TV next week, I thought.
For several minutes, with ever-increasing bafflement, I watched the seemingly random tapping on a smartphone, and flipping through pages full of street maps, by the German taxi driver. I use the term “driver” generously here, extending the word to include a person sitting in a driver’s seat and doing a lot of tapping and flipping, but no actual driving. But after five minutes of non-driving, I had enough.
“For God’s sake, let me navigate us there,” I said. I had my smartphone in my hands, I launched Waze, typed “Funkhaus”, tapped Go and said, “There we go, straight ahead!” And for the next twenty minutes, I navigated us to Nalepastrasse. I wondered if perhaps I should charge the driver, instead of the other way around, but I decided against that because it might not look so good on German TV. It’s my biggest market.
On arrival, when I paid for the taxi, the driver thanked me for teaching him where Funkhaus was. This perplexed me perhaps the most. Here was a taxi driver who believed that he had to learn where everything is. But this makes no sense anymore in the 21st century. The software knows where everything is. What he needed to do is learn how to ask the software, by using the navigator on his smartphone. That seems like a useful skill, for a taxi driver. I left the car in total bewilderment, making sure to smile in all directions, for the TV audience.
I attempted to use the disaster called MyTaxi twice more that week, each time with predictably bad outcomes. Because it’s offered by an industry that refuses to accept that the world is moving on. So what can you expect? I have more payment methods on my phone than underpants in my closet. But many taxis still take only cash. Need I say more?
Stop trying to put all knowledge in your head. Your brain is a terrible storage medium for information. Put it where it belongs: in the software. Just learn how to use it.