Is Technology Impacting on our Engagement with our Physical Environment?

The theme of this post is parcels and deliveries going astray. Not a terribly exciting subject; as an issue that’s likely to have been around since penny blacks first appeared on the scene, nor perhaps is it particularly newsworthy.  

As online shopping has grown, so has the sophistication of the delivery service. The days of waiting in all day for something to arrive are long gone. Today you’re likely to be given a 1-2 hour timeslot or receive a message when delivery is imminent.  In spite of this, given the sheer volume of packages in the system, I can understand that occasionally things will still go wrong whether through human error or technical glitches.

 

However a recent incident has given me pause for thought. My order, which I was able to track every step of the journey was delivered to the same house number, same street name, but a completely different postcode on the other side of London. Now I know that the parcel was addressed correctly, because the person who received it in error, very kindly tracked me down.

 

From talking to friends, it seems I’m not the only one to have been the wrong end of postcode error deliveries. Now I assume that i) delivery companies use clever IT to route plan and aggregate deliveries for very discrete geographical areas; ii) as this was one of the bigger players, to meet the daily demands of Greater London they’re likely to have a fair few vans on the road at any one time; iii) the postcode is data they use to plan.

 

In this example the postcodes had no letter or number in common, so couldn’t be put down to a transcription error – human or otherwise. So maybe load planning is a little more random and the routing left to the driver. Whatever the case I’d expect someone who earns their living making drops across London to be pretty familiar with the geography and know their Dagenham from their Twickenham (exact locations changed to protect the innocent).

 

The oft-quoted observation about our reliance on satnavs and mapping apps to find our way around is that they don’t allow us to build our own cognitive maps and develop our geographical understanding.  I can’t help thinking that such delivery errors are a prime illustration of how this technology while being hugely beneficial has led to a loss of our connection to our physical environment.

 

At the risk of revealing my age, I still have a battered AA road atlas and A-Z somewhere that accompanied me on many a trip. I don’t miss having to flick between several pages to plot a route in the slightest, but as a legacy I do have a passable understanding of where places are relative to each other. So should those GPS satellites ever go down, I think I’ll get by. Not sure how those Millennials born in a post satnav world will cope though.