The app economy has improved our lives in thousands of small ways, with seemingly endless opportunities to download and use gadgets that help us throughout the day, whatever our needs. Most are free or purchasable at a nominal charge.
Forget the ingredients for Shepherd’s Pie? Find it in seconds on the smartphone. Worried about the side effects of a new drug? They are there for you. Not sure about the quality of the restaurant you are about to enter? The crowds are anxious to tell you. Need a burrito for lunch? Uber will bring you one. (You can get a flu shot and a kitty, too.)
The truth is that we live completely different lives than we did ten years ago. We have unprecedented access to all life’s necessities, including medical and nutrition information, mapping information, the weather anywhere, plus hundreds of communication apps that allow text, audio, and video with half the human race, instantly, at no charge.
New Waze of Driving
The app I’m most excited about today is a navigation tool called Waze. It provides mapping, plus delightful instructions on how to get from here to there. But beyond that, it crowdsources information to make the trip more efficient and safer than it otherwise would be. In big cities, Waze will take you through circuitous routes to avoid high traffic areas. It alerts you to accidents, road blocks, and debris on the road.
Impressively, it allows drivers to report where the police are staking out speed traps. It tells you whether the officer in question is visible or hidden. You can also confirm or deny the report.
Police have objected to this feature of the app. Why? Because it means that drivers are better able to avoid getting ticketed. But think about this: the app actually succeeds in causing people to obey the law better by slowing down and being safer, as a way of avoiding fines.
Why would police object? If the whole point of traffic police is to get people to drive more safely, knowing about police presence achieves that goal.
Of course, we all know the real reason. The goal of the police on roads is not to inspire better driving but rather catch people in acts of lawbreaking so that they can collect revenue that funds their department. In other words, the incentives of the police are exactly the opposite of the promised results. Instead of seeking good driving, they are seeking lawbreaking as a means of achieving a different outcome: maximum revenue collection.
The whole ethos of Waze is different. It helps you become aware of your external surroundings, and conscious that other drivers are in a similar situation as you are, just trying to get to their destinations quickly and safely. We are there are help each other.
The Community Matters
For me this effected a big change in the whole way I drive. There is a tendency from your first years of driving to treat other drivers as obstacles. Your goal is to outsmart others who are crowding the road, moving around them quickly and navigating the roads with a chip on your shoulder. If there are no cops around, you drive as fast as possible.
I never intended to drive this way, but now I know that I have been, since I first received my government permission slip to drive. Once behind the wheel, I tended to think of myself as a lone actor.
Waze has subtly changed my outlook on driving. Other drivers become your benefactors because it is they who are reporting on traffic accidents, cars on the side the road, blocked streets, and the presence of police. They are all doing you favors. If you report, others thank you for doing so. You even see icons of evidence that your friends are driving, too.
Safety is priority one. Waze won’t let you type in a new address while you are driving. You have to stop the car before you can do that.
The app manages to create a sense of community out of drivers on the road, and that changes the way you think when you drive. Now I leave Waze on even when I already know the directions. It’s my connection to the community. I find my whole outlook on driving has changed. For the first time in my life, I can honestly say that I’m a safer and more responsible driver.
So thank you Waze — a product of brilliant entrepreneurship, distributed on private networks, performing a public service.
Compare with the people who are charged with the task of making our roads safe and are paid by our tax dollars to do it. Not only do they fail to accomplish what this one free application has done, they are actively seeking to cripple it.
Baby Steps to a Better World
Maybe this seems like too small a life improvement to justify mentioning? Not so. All great steps toward a better world occur at the margin, bit by bit, through trial and error, one innovation at a time. You look back at the progress of a decade and that’s where the awe comes into play.
It is not through large bills written by legislators and signed by presidents that the world improves. It is through small innovations, inauspicious downloads, incremental improvements in our existing paths that gradually build a better world. Waze is only one of a billion but it points to the right method and approach to an improved life.
Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Digital Development at FEE, CLO of the startup Liberty.me, and editor at Laissez Faire Books. Author of five books, he speaks at FEE summer seminars and other events. His latest book is Bit by Bit: How P2P Is Freeing the World. Follow on Twitter and Like on Facebook.
This article was published by The Foundation for Economic Education and may be freely distributed, subject to a Creative Commons Attribution United States License, which requires that credit be given to the author.