Thursday 15 February 2024 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Thursday. 15/2/2024

The Monocle Minute

The Opinion

Hot wheels: crowds set a Waymo robotaxi on fire in San Francisco on Saturday

Image: Alex Cisneros

Technology / Christopher Lord

Asleep at the wheel

Self-driving taxis increasingly look like the answer to a question that no one asked. Is anyone clear about what value they will bring to our lives? We’re told, for instance, that autonomous vehicles will be safer than standard cars and therefore a public good. Yet their limited debut in several US cities has had a chequered run and they have been known to snarl up traffic when something goes awry or if someone covers their rooftop radar with a cone. As more American cities consider letting these driverless vehicles loose on their streets, the scenes in San Francisco earlier this week should give authorities pause for thought: a group of Lunar New Year revellers set a Waymo taxi alight with fireworks.

I have had my own bewildering brush with a robot taxi. In 2022, Waymo debuted its fully self-driving taxi fleet in Mesa, a suburb of Phoenix, Arizona. I was writing about the city’s efforts to become a centre of automobile innovation and gave the Waymo app a whirl to get across town. Flash-forward 45 minutes and your correspondent was turning a shade of desert-sun red. There was no sign of a taxi. Customer support politely explained that they didn’t know what the issue was and that there was no driver to call to find out. Eventually I gave up and booked an Uber.

Mob violence is never warranted. Yet I have sympathy with the people of San Francisco. Many feel that their streets have been made a testbed for a new technology without due consultation. It is symptomatic of the fractious relationship between citizens and the technology industry, which swept in, brought untold wealth to a few, then sent rents into overdrive and scarpered when working from home became preferable. Any disruptive technology requires public buy-in and clarity as to what it will add to people’s lives. Otherwise, the supposed march of progress is liable to be halted in its tracks.

Christopher Lord is Monocle’s US editor. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.


Roundtable discussion: members of the UN Security Council in New York this week

Image: Reuters

Affairs / Greece

Changing tides

Greece’s foreign affairs minister, George Gerapetritis, is intensifying the country’s efforts to become a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for the 2025-2026 term. In a speech addressed to the Security Council on Tuesday, he emphasised the dangers that climate change poses to food security in the Mediterranean, as well as Greece’s commitment to the protection of the seas.

“Our goal is to highlight the fundamental importance of the oceans to the future,” said Gerapetritis. The ninth Our Ocean Conference, which takes place in Athens in April, will be another opportunity for Gerapetritis to reinforce this message ahead of the UN Oceans Conference in June 2025. Greece is a small country with limited hard power, so its focus on climate change is a clever way to bolster its position on the world stage.

Art / South Africa

Into the spotlight

The 11th edition of the Investec Cape Town Art Fair opens tomorrow at the city’s International Convention Centre. The theme of the curated sections this year is “Unbound”, so expect plenty of work with an unconventional approach to both narrative and materials, as well as a focus on fresh talent. The fair, which runs until Sunday, is the biggest event of its kind on the continent and has become an important fixture for galleries, collectors and artists from South Africa and beyond. About 25,000 visitors are expected and 100 exhibitors will be showcasing their wares. Highlights include “Generations”, a new section featuring cross-generational dialogues between emerging and established voices, and an exhibition focusing on South African modernism presented by Wall gallery. Alongside the 1-54 Art Fair in Morocco earlier this month and Senegal’s Dak’Art Biennale in May, the Investec Cape Town Art Fair is bringing new energy to the African art scene.

One for the books: Jérôme Callais, ‘bouquiniste’ on the Seine

Image: Nathalie Mohadjer

Retail / Paris

On the same page

Paris’s bouquinistes will be able to continue operating during this year’s Olympic Games after a U-turn by Emmanuel Macron. France’s president has caved to public outcry and the pleas of more than 200 booksellers who operate on the banks of the Seine. With parts of the Games’ opening ceremony set to take place on the river, city authorities had argued that the stalls needed to be removed for security reasons.

But many of the wooden boxes in which the books are stored are more than 50 years old and owners feared that they would be damaged in any relocation. “The authorities are supposed to promote the city and its monuments and now they want to make one of the biggest symbols of Paris disappear,” Jérôme Callais, an independent bouquiniste and president of the Cultural Association of Paris, told Monocle for a report on the situation in our February issue. It’s good to see the French government put an end to this unfortunate chapter.

For more on the Seine’s ‘bouquinistes’, pick up the latest issue of Monocle, which is available now.

Beyond the Headlines

Image: Tony Hay

Q&A / Christian Nolle

Head in the sky

London-based Danish product designer Christian Nolle is the editor of Direction of Travel, a newspaper about airline maps and the culture of flying. Here, he tells Monocle about what inspired the project and how his work has evolved over time.

How did you get the idea for ‘Direction of Travel’?
It’s a love letter to the world of flying. It’s a product that grew out of my collection of maps, which I have amassed over the past 15 years. At some point, I had the idea of turning this collection into something in print. I decided to do it as a newspaper because you can go big with the format and its material feels very close to that of maps. I experimented with a couple of prototypes and then somehow ended up with the current product.

How do you find the maps that you use in your stories?
It takes a lot of digging around on various auction sites. I also find things inside old in-flight magazines, particularly issues from Air France. All of this has become an obsession. In one edition of Direction of Travel, we ran a story on Pope John Paul II’s travels. Every time he landed in a new country, he would walk down the steps of the Alitalia DC-10 aircraft and then kiss the ground. I dug through the Vatican archives to find references to where he had been and tried to collate it all together.

How do you structure an issue?
I started planning the latest issue by researching two airlines, Alitalia and Swiss Air, which are divided by the Alps. From there, I began to explore how they are connected to each other. As the newspaper has evolved, I have started to think more about which stories I want to write and what the audience is interested in. The latest issue features a lot of essays and projects by various artists.

To listen to the full interview with Christian Nolle, tune in to the latest episode of The Stack on Monocle Radio.

Monocle Radio / Monocle on Design

In the spotlight

Multidisciplinary designer Bethan Laura Wood talks about her exhibition at the National Gallery of Victoria Triennial. Plus: we visit a net-zero fire station in Canada and meet architect Mario Cucinella.


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