Friday, August 08, 2008

hmmm, it's us again.....

The hilarious Mary Roach (author of classic science books like "Bonk" and "Stiff") has a fun book review in the New York Times of Tom Vanderbilt's Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (And What It Says About Us that explores that mind boggling thing called traffic and how it emerges. Automated transport has really changed the way we do things and in effect changed us. For instance:

One reason, Vanderbilt reports, is that people are driving to do things they once did at home or down the block. “It is not just that American households have more cars,” he writes, “it is that they are finding new places to take them.” They’re going someplace to eat. They’re driving to Whole Foods because they don’t like the produce at their neighborhood supermarket. They’re going out to get coffee. (So much of Starbucks’s revenue now comes from drive-through lanes that the company will put stores across the street from each other, sparing drivers “the agony of having to make a left turn during rush hour.”)

It reminds me of Wall-E and the uber-obese people in the movie floating around on chairs having their every whim catered to. I recently read the Time Magazine cover story about our obese kids. At the risk of sounding harsh, perhaps too much self-esteem is a bad thing. The root causes of our childhood obesity is our fear that keeps our kids locked in. Growing up, I use to ride my bike everywhere, now we are frightened to let our kids roam free. I don't have children myself, so I'm hesitant to be quick to judge (ok, let me have 10 seconds here). LET YOUR KIDS ROAM, teach them to be aware of the world around them so they have to think.

Back to Vanderbilt's book:

This basic truth — feeling safe kills — lies beneath many of the book’s insights. Americans think roundabouts are more dangerous than intersections with traffic lights. Roundabouts require you to adjust your speed, to merge, in short, to pay attention. At an intersection, we simply watch the light. And so we may not notice the red-light runner coming at us or the pedestrian stepping off the curb. A study that followed 24 intersections that had been converted from signals or stop signs to roundabouts showed an almost 90 percent drop in fatal crashes after the change.

The less safe we feel the safer we will be, our definition of safety is to disengage from the world, and hence and I know I am stretching here, we start abusing it since we are cocooned from it. Be aware of you actions and the actions on you, it's not just about traffic. It's about the world we live in.


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