The story appears on

Page C6

March 16, 2010

GET this page in PDF

Free for subscribers

View shopping cart

Related News

Home » Feature

Welcome to the digital age

IT is 6am, and Zhang, CEO of one of Shanghai's biggest information and communications technology (ICT) companies, is enjoying his morning shave.

The screen built into his shaving mirror scrolls through the morning headlines as usual, in the order he wants - local news first, international news second. He uses the voice-activated controls to select a couple of stories to read in more detail later and they are sent over to his smartphone.

The mirror then displays his agenda for the day: tele-presence meetings at the headquarters to finalize the facilitation of the upcoming global cyber-cities awards; local celebrations to coincide with World Telecommunication and Information Society Day; and last but not least, a party for his granddaughter's 21st birthday in Australia. The screen confirms that the cake he and his wife arranged has already been delivered to his son's house in Melbourne.

How different the world has become, compared with just 15 years earlier when the World Expo 2010 took place in Shanghai. It is ironic, Zhang thinks, that the global economic crisis in 2008-2010 has, in fact, turned out to be such an important moment of well-seized opportunity for the world.

Without the crisis, it might take decades to put the necessary global broadband infrastructure in place - but instead ICT stimulus packages around the world have done the job in a few short years, rapidly driving extraordinary economic, technological and social progress.

As Zhang leaves his apartment, he uses his smartphone to lock the doors and windows safely for the day and switch on the alarm and surveillance cameras - all accessible from his phone.

Better way to work

He smiles to himself gratefully as he thinks of what is about to happen inside the apartment. The vacuum cleaner has been set to start on its rounds as soon as he left, and then to recharge itself, while the washing machine will already be checking the electronic tags on his clothes to make sure they are washed using the right program.

The panels in his window blinds traps any available sunlight and uses the energy to provide hot water. And the fridge is going online to place orders with the local shop for essentials - as well as the ingredients for a dinner party they are planning at the weekend, once his wife is home from Australia.

By the time he get back home that afternoon, everything will be waiting for him in the refrigerated and electronically controlled locker by the front door; when the delivery comes, he will simply have sent a code from his phone to the locker, to allow the food to be put inside.

Zhang uses his phone to unlock the car, and asks the car to drive him to the office, with a stop to collect coffee on the way. The car checks out the best route, using advanced GPS data and real-time traffic-flow information, and then sets off into the busy morning traffic.

One of the biggest changes he has seen in Shanghai is the outlawing of self-driven motor vehicles, and he is still delighted with the benefits everyone gains: massively reduced congestion; a huge drop in the number of traffic accidents; and more free time and personal space for anyone driving anywhere.

It is also a daily pleasure to experience the silence and clean air on the roads, with quiet electric cars having completely replaced their noisy petrol and diesel equivalents.

The car pulls smoothly into a drive-through coffee shop, and his regular morning latte is passed to him by the robot-server; his phone, once again, places the order in advance to execute the necessary payment. How have people ever managed with notes and coins, he wonders out loud? The robot agrees and wishes him a safe journey.

In the car, Zhang transfers the news stories he's selected earlier to his flexible news screen and reads through them, making audio notes on his phone which will serve as a useful summary later in the day.

As the car drives smoothly through the city, Zhang looks at all the ways Shanghai has been transformed to save energy and reduce pollution.

All of the city's buildings are self-cleaning and carbon-neutral now. The green spaces recycle their own water and fix excess carbon-dioxide from the atmosphere. Natural light, wind, solar energy and rainfall are all carefully harvested and used to keep the city running effectively.

Public transport was smooth and efficient. And, perhaps most importantly for Shanghai citizens, it is effectively free for users, paid for out of a combination of taxes on private vehicles, carbon taxes and advertising contracts - all underpinned by smart monitoring and verification systems.

Before arriving at the office, Zhang uses his smartphone for a quick medical check-up and sends the data through to the medical monitoring system he uses.

Everything is fine, says the system, but his blood pressure is slightly higher than last week, so the next time he comes in for a full check-up they will do a few supplementary tests.

A shorter work day

In the office, the working day speeds by as quickly as usual - at least in part because increases in productivity has now brought the official working day down to just six and a half hours.

Most of the morning is spent in tele-conferencing with his counterparts in other cyber-cities to discuss the technical arrangements for the next series of global cyber-cities awards, which will be taking place in Shanghai later in the year.

As a CEO, Zhang is pleased to note that the number of cyber-cities has grown from around 30 back at the time of World Expo 2010 to several hundred today - and that increasingly there were cyber-towns and cyber-villages, too.

Early in the afternoon, Zhang is one of many CEOs and participants in the events in Shanghai that were being staged to coincide with World Telecommunication and Information Society Day, which this year is celebrating the 160th anniversary of the founding of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the UN specialized agency for ICT.

Without its work, Zhang thinks, the world would look very different indeed, and so many of the improvements in Shanghai driven by ICT development might never have happened.

Fifteen years earlier, the agency hosted World Telecommunication and Information Society Day in Shanghai for the first time, in conjunction with World Expo 2010.

Zhang remembers that event fondly. It was his granddaughter's sixth birthday, and he told her on that day just how important ICT was going to be in transforming the future. He's right. ICT really is ubiquitous now - always on and available any time, anywhere.

The car drives Zhang home at 3pm, in plenty of time to prepare for his granddaughter's birthday party. At 4pm local time, and 6pm in Melbourne, he video-conferences in to his son's house and watches the 21 candles on the cake being blown out by his granddaughter.

Here is a real digital native entering the adult world, and he is delighted to offer her a special visit to Shanghai, one of the world's most digital cities, as a birthday present.


Copyright © 1999- Shanghai Daily. All rights reserved.Preferably viewed with Internet Explorer 8 or newer browsers.

沪公网安备 31010602000204号

Email this to your friend