Barriers to Innovation

In 2017, why do New Yorkers still use the MetroCard? Granted they are difficult to hack, but they bend easily, and must be removed from your wallet before being dragged through a finicky reader. This leads to frustrated commuters at the turnstiles.

Why has New York City failed to adopt near field communication (NFC), which addresses the problems above, when Suica, Japan’s NFC-driven smart card, was launched in 2001? The reason is human culture. Culture is why New Yorkers don’t have an up-to-date commuter card, and is one reason why humankind has not been able to live up to our potential to realize healthier, happier lives in a more equitable, low-carbon society. Culture is one of three components of an ecosystem, which also includes natural resource (including energy) flows and biodiversity.

The factors below are central to why New York hasn’t adopted NFC and also at the core of why we have not yet realized a more equitable world:

  1. Empathy: This term has attracted attention as a necessary skill for 21st leaders. Commuters should feel that the Metro Transit Authority (MTA) is empathetic to their needs, and doing their best to deploy the best technology at the best price. How does the MTA approach commuters with odd monetary amounts leftover on their MetroCards? And, how can the MTA do a better job communicating, including when their turnstiles admonish us to “Swipe card again at this turnstile,” sometimes forcing us to visit an agent sometimes located several blocks away?

  2. Determination: the MTA recently solicited proposals for ‘New Fare Payment System’ based on NFC. Optimistically this new system will be in place by 2020, and perhaps as late as 2022–over 15 years after NFC was adopted in Japan, and more than 20 years since MetroCards were first introduced in NYC. How can the MTA work with government, enterprise and academic stakeholders to deploy this technology earlier?

  3. Knowledge Diversity: A second-order effect of the knowledge revolution of the 1990s was a weakening of the trades. We need to change our education system to “revalorize the trades,” a concept introduced in a 2010 article written in the Chronicle of Higher Education. The results of greater respect (and pay) for intelligent people who make a living with manual skills will be manifold: more young people self-supporting, able to deploy the smart infrastructure we need to realize a better society.

Culture is the connective tissue of the intelligent communication system we’re building at Sizung. As our network of users grows, our aim is to facilitate the interconnection of resources from diverse cultures. Cross-cultural collaborations are essential to creating the most productive global economy. Our vision is to build that economy grounded in the principles of trust and opportunity. When more ecosystem stakeholders can work together to solve problems more effectively, this world will be a better place faster!


by Adam Lobel