Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Why The Car Isn't Going Away: What Makes Us Tick

I read Hugh Mackay's book "What Makes Us Tick?: The Ten Desires That Drive Us over the Christmas break and found it to be a reasonably entertaining piece of pop psychology.

Mackay identifies 10 driving "desires" that guide our lives (some good, some often bad):

- the desire to be taken seriously (which he identifies as the "primary" desire)
- the desire for 'my place'
- the desire for something to believe in
- the desire to connect
- the desire to be useful
- the desire to belong
- the desire for more
- the desire for control
- the desire for something to happen
- the desire for love

The section on "the desire for 'my place'" includes an interesting take on the role of the car in western society today:

The western world is characterised by speed, restlessness and motion (look at any major airport at almost any hour of day or night), so its hardly surprising that for many people in modern urban settings, 'my place' is neither a building nor a piece of the Earth's surface, but that somewhat ubiquitous mobile enclosure we call the car.
My very own space ? I'll tell you where that is - behind the wheel of my car. It's the only place I ever have to myself and it's the only place where I seem to get any real peace.

I've lost count of the number of times I've heard people say the car is the most comfortable place they ever inhabit; the place where they feel totally in control (helped immeasurably by the symbolism of the steering wheel in their hands and an accelerator pedal under their foot); the place that feels more like a personal space than anywhere else they spend their time...

Cars are for escaping into, for meditation, for thinking, for praying, for courting, for sex, for conversation, for eating and drinking, for sleep, for letting off steam and for generating unrivaled - and positively dangerous - feelings of power. Oh, and for driving too: cars are our most flexible and efficient means of transport, though at enormous cost to life and limb - to say nothing of the cost to the quality of the air we breathe and the health of the planet.

The role the car now performs seems (in my mind at least) to guarantee the success of electric vehicles in a post oil wold - for all the benefits of public transport, transit oriented development and walkable neighbourhoods, none of them offer a personalised space that people can take with them when they are on the move.

Cross posted from Peak Energy.