London Tunnels

Software Update

Sloane Young
Feb 3, 2017 · 7 min read

It is 2017 and the world needs technology. Today, we spend years of our lifetime on electronic devices. Although our days are consumed by technology, there is some pride to be had about how far we’ve come. Centuries ago, these devices ceased to exist — meaning that technology used for safety or for spreading news, or transporting people quickly, were just a figment of the imagination. Now, we are so familiar with technology that we often overlook how it is implemented in our world today. In my recent visit to London, I let myself be hyper-aware of just how London utilizes technology, say, in comparison to the United States.

Europe as a whole gets a bad rap for its historical amenities and traditional values. Given this, people are quick to deem it as technologically inferior compared to the Western Hemisphere. It is true that London’s preservation of history is significant, however, they have also adopted technology in a variety of ways. It is not that holding onto historical features inhibits them from progressing technologically, and that is a distinction worthy of being made.

Perhaps London’s most iconic symbol is the vibrant, red payphone. This payphone has come to represent London in what some may find an archaic way, but those who have never visited London may not fathom that this is no longer their means of communication. Presently, nearly everyone in London carries a cell phone — in fact, not once had I seen these public phones in use. I would run into these payphones near daily because of my frequent explorations in the city. But I soon learned that, in large part, these booths were more decor than anything else. It would be wrong to remove them nonetheless, because of their symbolic meaning to the city itself.

I was astonished that parts of London seemingly resembled New York City. One weekday, my friends and I explored other bustling streets near our own home of Russell Square. As we made our way through town, we were met with the brightest lights we had seen in all of London: a wall full of electronic billboards stared back at us as we stood in awe amongst the crowd. Immediately, I was reminded of New York. It was as though a portion of Times Square had been transported across the ocean and planted in front of me. All of them projected moving pictures, lit up on a wall in front of a historic building. Indeed, it was the last thing I had expected.

The billboard itself was riddled with signs about technology. It advertised polaroid cameras, cars with wifi capabilities, and new cell phones. It integrated all sorts of technology to convince people to buy these products. All of them, products frequently advertised in America. Had I not flown to London, I would have never imagined that this existed here. A part of me held on to the idea that advertisements were still incorporated into newspapers or magazines, but that technology was not fully developed in parts of Europe. I had never been more wrong.

After my daily adventures, I’d return back to my dorm in Russell Square. My first impression of the dorms, at the University College of London, was that it was far from outdated. These dorms were four levels of modern amenities and technological conveniences. To enter the dorm, one would have to scan their personalized entry card for the gate to open. A green light would then flash to let the student in. However, this process allowed only one student to enter at a time to avoid intruders. The gate would immediately close once one body passed through, then would lock until the next card was scanned. This was an ingenious form of security that I had not previously been exposed to. I reminisced about the dorms at UC Davis where, as a freshman, I had to scan my identification card to enter the building, but there was no limit as to how many people could enter. In addition, the entry point of the dorms in London had cameras to monitor exactly who was on the premises. Consequently, I felt incredibly safe staying here for a month’s time. In the end, however, it was technology that had afforded me this luxury.

The Tube stations scattered throughout London were vaguely similar in the way the provided security. Electronic scanners were placed at every entry booth where a computerized machine would then process the Oyster card and display, in words, “ENTER” on a pixelated screen. Two-paneled doors would proceed to open for the person to walk through, and automatically close after. If a person was not a frequent Tube-user and did not possess an Oyster card, ticket machines were available to purchase one-time or two-time use tickets. Purchasing tickets were a rigorous process as I had later found out.

When I attempted to purchase a metro ticket in Paris, one weekend, I had to navigate a complex computer system. Some ticket machines accepted cards while others gave change. After choosing the appropriate ticket booth, I filled out an online form regarding which ticket I wanted to purchase. Then, the machine would process my payment either through the cash machine or credit card swipe. Lastly, my ticket would be printed and distributed to me for entrance to the Tube. The security checkpoints implemented ticket machines that would scan tickets as opposed to just Oyster cards. This way, entry was permitted through two different means.

Once a person gains access to the Tube station, they are met with countless additional forms of technology. Escalators, to transport you to different platforms, as well as elevators, to bring you up to street level, are located at every corner. Being that the Tube is one of the most popular modes of transportation in London, natives have become heavily dependent on technology. There were times when I questioned what would happen if, say, these devices were to stop working. Would people have other means of getting to work or would everything simply break into chaos?

While technology privileges us in many ways, it also has its downsides. Oftentimes, technology is not thoroughly reliable, seeing how it has the potential to malfunction. I was on the Tube, like any other day. Once seated, I patiently waited for the remainder of passengers to board so we could be on our way. Thankfully, I was only making my way back to the dorm, so I was not particularly pressed for time. To my surprise, the subway doors did not close when the warning beeps had sounded. I immediately glanced around to gauge people’s reactions and they too looked baffled. I had already spent enough time in London to know that this was not a normal occurrence. Soon, the conductor began talking on the loudspeaker, saying that the Tube had been experiencing technical difficulties. I began to panic, wondering if I would have to take another route home, but at the same time, was thankful that I was in no rush to be somewhere. Additionally, the conductor was not able to provide a time estimation for how long it would take for repairs to happen, so all we could do was wait. Eventually, the repairs had been made and we were on our way — but by this time, many people had already vacated the Tube.

Technology gives us boundless advantages. While it is capable of providing security, comfortability, and transportation, it also has the possibility of malfunctioning like any other man-made machine. London took me by surprise because of both the amount and types of technology present in the city. It was not hard to spot these devices, because they were virtually everywhere, but it took practice to not overlook them or mistake them for common objects — because it is so deeply engraved in everyday life. While London boasts so many historical artifacts, the city should not be mistaken as an archaic community. In fact, my observations led me to believe that London is fundamentally as up to date with technology as America is. There are a variety of electronic gadgets used for surveillance, security, advertisements, or public transit.

London proved me wrong in that being an ocean away has little difference on the effect of technology in the modern day. I found that even London has evolved in some way to the ever-changing world we live in. Surely, my perception influenced how I thought about London, as far as development goes, but taking initiative to explore the city gave me all the insight I needed to prove me wrong. While not identical to America in the frequency and forms of technology, there is much to be said about the dependency that both nations have on it. In other words, these devices are essential to the functioning of both nations and the daily lives of their respective citizens. Having the opportunity to see technology in action within London, changed my perspective about how differences in geographic location and even culture may be juxtaposed with similarities in other realms such as technology.

Study Abroad: Our Stories

A university writing experiment at UC Davis: A collection of study abroad student stories, feature articles, and interviews written by the next generation of thought-leaders and storytellers. Email to contribute (open to all). Details:

Sloane Young

Written by

Study Abroad: Our Stories

A university writing experiment at UC Davis: A collection of study abroad student stories, feature articles, and interviews written by the next generation of thought-leaders and storytellers. Email to contribute (open to all). Details:

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