A few days ago I was leaving a meeting with my boss. We were in dire need of petrol. No problem I announced, iPhone to the rescue! Perfect scenario for the smart phone: in an area of town I didn’t know very well, no idea where the closest petrol station might be, not near any obvious main roads or shops. So off we set, blue dot blinking happily on the screen indicating our current location, with a choice of dots indicating petrol stations. Too easy!
Or so you would think.
To cut a long story short, we did find a petrol station before the car started coughing and spluttering, but just barely. It was a good 20 minute drive from where we started. Completely missing the petrol station that was a mere 30 seconds drive away.
New technology is a splendid thing, offering us easier ways to get around, easier ways to keep in contact, etc. You no doubt know all of this. So what happened??
It seems that the lovely comforting blue dot was just slightly off. Only a few metres mind you. But this meant that we turned left instead of right. And we drove for a ridiculously long period of time in the wrong direction before realising that the petrol station dot was not getting any closer.
Sounds like one of those stories where people drive into a swimming pool because their sat nav told them to, right?
I’ve always laughed at those stories in a smug superior sort of way, thinking ‘idiots’. Ahem, it appears I have now joined their ranks! It was not just my reliance in technology and not just my trust in the technology that steered us wrong. It was the fact that I abandoned my common sense along with it. If I had actually taken a minute to look around at the actual road and surroundings rather than the blue dot, the mistake would have been obvious much earlier on.
So why is this relevant in a blog about research? This incident got me thinking. Partly because I keep getting teased about it… ;)
But seriously. We embrace lots of new technologies and new techniques in our research. Because of the multitude of benefits that they offer us and our clients. But this has inherent dangers. The danger of relying on the technology in the absence of common sense and abandoning ‘old school’ ways of doing things just because they have been around for a while. To remember that sometimes a pen and paper questionnaire is actually the best way of doing something. To look up from the blue dot and think ‘does this actually make sense’? To notice the real world and not just the virtual. To remember that new techniques and new technologies are great. But should be an addition to our repertoire, not necessarily a replacement for other ways of doing things.
Basically, I will be reminding myself not to blindly drive headlong into the research swimming pool.