These micro-mobility devices from companies such as Lyft, Bird, Lime and Jump are addictive and wickedly fun. There’s something liberating about flying along sidewalks, park lanes and roadways at 15 miles per hour, feeling like a teenager again.
If this is a glimpse of the future of smart cities, hop on for the ride because we’re in for an adventurous one.
You could say that SXSW-goers symbolize an equally adventurous spirit, and these scooters (and electric bikes) epitomize the typical attendee in many ways. Here’s why:
The electric scooter companies are attempting to solve the Last Mile problem typical of major urban centers. As inner cities become increasingly dense, pedestrian-oriented and automobile-unfriendly, the difficulty in moving people from a transportation hub to their destination becomes more apparent.
Enter dockless electric scooters. These devices capitalize on the tech-savviness of the ride-sharing generation. They’re designed with the user in mind; a (mostly) seamless experience that is cost-effective, empathetic with consumer needs and rather addictive. A perfect recipe to disrupt the Last Mile.
“Disruption” was on the lips of many SXSW attendees. Most came from roles and industries in the process of technological and consumer-led change, well-aware of the need for innovation. They were there to be inspired, channeling ambition into a learning agenda to help along their journey.
The mainstream adoption of electric scooters couldn’t have occurred 10 years ago. The technology, sharing-economy familiarity and favorable regulatory climate didn’t exist. The explosion of electric scooters could only happen with coordination and maturity of these areas simultaneously.
The millennial-skewed participants at SXSW grew up as digital natives. Most attendees sported at least one wearable device. One could ascertain when a keynote speaker hit on an important point, as a Twitter-storm of glowing smartphones would suddenly light up the room.
The progressive and influential nature of attendees meant it was obvious why (mostly Democratic) presidential nominees were out to win hearts and minds at SXSW. These included Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke, Howard Schultz and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper.
Hotels are spread for miles around Austin, with road-closures and a shortage of taxis leading to painful journeys home in previous years. Consequently, the omnipresence of electric scooters was mostly perceived as a convenient utility.
However, there was a downside to the explosive growth of the scooter companies. The sheer volume of devices lead to cluttering of sidewalks, parking lots and roadways.
Prior to SXSW, Austin hospitals were already experiencing an influx of scooter-related injuries, mostly head, facial and orthopedic in nature. To pedestrians, the scooters were an incoming obstacle to jump out of harm’s way. To drivers, a lawsuit-in-waiting. To locals, a desecrating eye-sore.
And to complete this analogy, I observed many self-centered characteristics within SXSW attendees.
Long-winded, self-promoting “questions” during Q&A times. Snarling comments and elbowing for viewable positions at the back of popular talks. Alcohol-fueled and often uncivilized behavior in the evening. It’s true, technology and culture conferences can bring out the best and worst in humanity.
The electric scooter companies have a vision for the future and are solving real challenges. They know what they want, but damned if anyone gets in their way.
Just like SXSW attendees.