There is literally nothing that the Dutch won’t do with a bike. Here’s a short list of things i’ve seen people carrying around Amsterdam: the shopping, a large bunch of tulips, a dog in the wicker basket on the handlebars, a guitar, a girlfriend on the rack at the back, a trumpet, three dining room chairs, a kayak, a girlfriend on the rack and a housemate on the handlebars, a double bass, a newborn baby strapped to the chest, three children perched on assorted seats and cross members, a ladder and, my personal favourite, another bike.
The bicycle is, it must be said, both ubiquitous and versatile. At a mundane level, it’s used to travel from A to B, but it’s also a symbol of status: Dutch city bike (sit up and beg) or racer, mountain bike in gleaming chrome (very rare here, the ‘norm’ back home) or antique steel steed, part steel, mostly rust. Bikes are used for fitness, for work or just for pleasure. BMXs are used to entertain, whilst everyday bikes are decorated with paint, plastic flowers and baskets as fashion statements and for protection against theft. Oh yes, and they’re use to carry stuff. Everything in fact.
As a technology, bikes are cheap, agile, flexible, repurpose-able, easy to maintain and everywhere.
Now map this out across other technologies: home computers may be ubiquitous, but they’re a pain to maintain. Anti virus software, memory issues, configuration errors, you have to be an expert to run one. But mobile phones and iPads? Well, you can’t carry the girlfriend out on one, but they pretty much match all the other criteria. Used for work and pleasure, fashion statements, configurable around the core functionality, whilst retaining a robustness of core engineering (e.g. you can change the wallpaper). Ok, so they don’t make you fit. Except that they do assist in it, with Nike running apps and BikeTrack cycling ones, Ski tracks, things that let you quantify your progress.
Successful technologies are fluid, they fit into our lives seamlessly. They support our performance, they make us able to achieve more. That should be at the heart of any learning technology: not making us learn systems to do things, but letting us do what we want to do better through seamless technology.