In October we ran our third in the series of community champions workshop, a citizen engagement programme dedicated to building community participation in the development of Manchester as a Smart City.

Here’s a blog by Katie Saatchi who led a transport workshop to identify insights into how technology can affect our commute.

Did you know that if your daily commute to and from the office takes an hour, that equates to 450 days over your working life?

That’s well over a year of your life sitting in the same space as people you’ve never met, avoiding eye contact, avoiding interaction, avoiding anything remotely close to a meaningful connection. Of course, from time to time we might smile, make small talk, help someone with their bags, give someone directions – but in reality, that’s probably rare.

The commute is relatively young in the grand scheme of human history – as our world has become more mechanised, we’ve needed more and more workers in our exploding industrial and technological city centres and, as space has become a premium, for many, the pay off has become a hefty travel time to and from work.

But I don’t think we’ve caught up yet…

We’re social creatures – we love to talk, share stories, laugh, dance and even (god forbid) sing together.

But surely these things could never happen during our commutes?

Well, occasionally, they already do.

Think of all those YouTube videos you’ve been sent or tagged in where a choir has burst into song on the Metrolink or where some young street dancers have delighted people with an impromptu get-down to music played on their phones.

These moments bring us joy because they connect us.

And technology connects thousands, or even millions more, to the experience through social media sharing. But why do we find it so difficult to connect the rest of the time?

It’s these thoughts that formed the basis of ‘Tech and Our Commute’ – a CityVerve Community Engagement workshop that I delivered in October.

On arrival at the workshop, I broke the ice by asking people to draw their commute on a giant map of Manchester – it was great to see strangers already find a connection talking about their journeys: the good, the bad and the downright atrocious!

We talked at length about what made a journey good or bad and together we dreamed of ways we could make our commute just that little bit more enjoyable. Suggestions included: a pub quiz over the tram speakers, Democratic Disco where passengers can vote on songs to be played, an app-based tram book club and the option of locating your friends if they’re on the same tram.

App developers City Concierge are in the development stages of creating one way to make our commutes more stimulating: Tram Tracks, an app downloaded to your smartphone, will make use of new sensors placed at Metrolink stops across Greater Manchester to trigger push notifications of audio files to your device as you pass.

We got chance to explore the types of things we might want to experience from just such an app. Some people wanted news bulletins, whilst others wanted local music and one person said they’d love a seated exercise routine.

We also went one step beyond the current technology and returned back to our commutes on the giant map to imagine the best commute ever, drawing our fantastical ideas on as we went…

Who knows, one day you’ll be able to download a giant puppy whilst passing through Pomona.

Until then, maybe an uncomfortable smile will have to do.

By Katie Saatchi

Additional words by Nathaniel Hall

Katie is part of Creative Experts, a group of professional facilitators, performers and consultants who provide a number of services that can help businesses, providing fresh, innovative solutions to a range of creative problems and challenges.

Read about FutureEverything’s role in CityVerve and how we’re running community forums to help shape the future of Manchester as a Smart City.