Monday, December 29, 2008

A smooth life

Life in Singapore is highly driven by technology. If you live in a condo, you have a key to your apartment with a magnetic strip, which you need to swipe when you enter, the gates, enter the building, and even to access your floor in the elevator. If you have a visitor, the visitor needs to call you from the intercom. Once you have seen the face of the person visiting you, or maybe even spoken to him on the intercom, all you need to do is just push two buttons, one to release the main entrance and the other for him to access the lift. Now thats a very interesting way of doing things. It improves levels of security, and negates the need for a security person at your lobby. But recently, my intercom stopped working, and when the Starhub guy came to change my set top box, he could neither hear, no see me through the intercom. The machine did not release either the gate of the elevator. I dashed off to the lobby, not to miss him, and luckily he was waiting.

Lets take a look at the way we travel. You go to an MRT station, and check out the numerous automated ticket vending machines at the station. The machines give you detailed instructions on how to obtain a ticket. Let's say you are a visitor to Singapore, and need to travel only a short distance. You punch in an amount of SGD 5 in the machine and get a travel card. You swipe this card to enter the platform, take the escalators to go upto your train and when you have completed your journey and swiped the card again to exit at your destianation, the requisite amount of your travel is deducted from your card. You need not worry about what the charges are upto a certain point, or about how to pay for the same. The card has memory chip in it, which records your travel, so in case you do not swipe your card properly at a certain point, your card will not be allowed access at another point. You will then need to approach customer service, who will track the data recorded on your card, and deduct the appropriate amount of your travel. Thats not all, the same card can also be used in the buses. In fact, the level of automation is so high, that there is no need for either bus conductors or ticket checkers. All the roads have very prominent road signs. So, there is absolutely no possibility of getting lost in this city. Unlike in India, you will never feel the need to ask the bus conductor to let you know when you have reached your destination. Or ask whether this bus goes to a certain location. The index available at the bus stop and the maps at the MRT stations will give you all the information you need. I love the levels of automation here, the ease with which services are made available. I wonder, if my father will feel the same, when he visits Singapore. He is an old man with a bad knee, bad eyesight and hard of hearing. Being a newcomer, he may feel lost and overawed to be able to notice the instructions on the wall. He would definitely seek a helping hand through his travels and travails in this city.

Singapore is a land of immigrants, mostly seekers of occupation. It's a small city with a sparse population. Manual labour is extremely expensive, since its not easily available, and automation surely does help remove the need for manual labour in quite a few places. Unlike India, which needs a traffic cop at every other crossroad, I am yet to see a traffic policeman here. The streets are monitored by camera's all over the city, and both pedestrians and cars, strictly follow the traffic lights meant for each. If it is possible to do away with the need for law-enforcers, then why do we need so many of them in India? Is it because labour is cheap, or population is huge and job-creation a necessity, is technology unaffordable, or are we just plain disrespectful of the rules?

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