Tuesday, October 09, 2012

The Luxury of Instant Information Gratification

Have you ever thought about how easy it is to scratch an information itch these days?

I was looking at a presentation on a technical tool that is used in emergency warning systems. The system works by locating all mobile cell towers in an affected area, then sending SMS messages to subscribers within range of those cells.

One of the slides in the presentation illustrated the concept using this map:

Mobile cell tower coverage superimposed on a map - but which city is this?

I was distracted by an entirely irrelevant angle to the point being made. I noticed that all the street names on the map looked Spanish, and wondered which city it was from.

Well, Google and Google Maps were just a click away, so I did a quick search on "Calle de Alcala" (one of the street names I could see at the top of the map) and was immediately informed that this was in Madrid, Spain. [In fact, I wrongly spelt it "Alcaia" and Google helpfully corrected me.] I then switched to Google's Map view and zoomed in till I could see the "Sevila" metro station that was in the original, and positioned the map so I could compare it with the one in the presentation.

Yup, it's Madrid all right.

It took less than a minute for my idle curiosity (for it was nothing but that) to be satisfied.

And thinking about it, surely this is an amazing aspect of progress in the modern world! We didn't have this capability even 20 years ago. Trillions of trivial questions must have gone unanswered because there was no easy way to answer them. I don't know how I would have found the answer to my question in the pre-Google days.

It's nothing short of a luxury that we can afford to scratch our information itches almost without thinking. What wondrous innovations and advances will build on the shoulders of this capability, I wonder.

1 comment:

Viswanath said...

I have a similar story to tell. When I was a kid, I went to the movie Apollo 13. I had an idea that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin went to the moon, but never knew those missions were called the Apollo missions. So my perception was that the entire movie is just a well made story !! As the movie progressed, my doubts about maybe this movie is a real story became stronger. At the end of the movie, they even mention briefly about whether those 3 astronauts flew missions later on or not.
After the movie, I really wanted to find out whether there was any space mission called Apollo 13 and whether the events depicted in the movie actually happened. Because it was a remarkable story.
I was at the time studying in Railway school in Vijayawada (India). Neither my school nor the city library had any books on space or an encyclopedia and so it was frustrating for me not being able to know more. Ultimately, after many years, I found out more about it on the internet :-)