Future Thought: The Time In Between
This is part three of a five-part series on the technological, environmental, and socio-political conditions that shape our lives today and tomorrow.
Avoiding the agony of a lengthy daily commute is a luxury that very few Americans enjoy. Tell a friend who commutes three hours a day that you ride your bike and eat lunch at home, and you can see the jealousy swell up from the depths of their soul in real-time. The average American spends 100 minutes in the car each day. Altogether, that’s nearly 12 hours of driving every week, 50 hours every month, and 608 hours every year – just shy of a full month.
"The average American spends 100 minutes in the car each day."
We tend to think of the time spent getting from A to B as ‘lost time,’ merely spent between the distinct activities that we call ‘living.’ The issue is not that our existing transportation solutions don’t work. The issue, rather, is that our existing solutions don’t work as well as they could work. As a result, we waste countless amounts of energy. Commuters suffer, and so does the environment.
"Our existing solutions don’t work as well as they could work."
There’s traffic. Getting around is a burden. Los Angeles drivers spend an average of 81 hours in traffic every year. Delay times have only risen since the 1980s. A 25-minute commute makes you more susceptible to burnout, while a 35-minute one is proven to make you more cynical about your job.
There’s stress. Commuting has significant psychological costs and has been dubbed the “stress that doesn’t pay.” According to the National Institute of Mental Health, “continued strain on your body from routine stress may lead to serious health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, anxiety disorder, and other illnesses.”
There’s environmental destruction. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in the U.S. alone, transportation accounts for 31% of annual carbon dioxide emissions – 1.5 million kilotons of which comes from cars. In the past 150 years, carbon dioxide emitting activities – such as driving combustion-based cars – have raised levels higher than they have been for hundreds of thousands of years. Air pollution, one of the many manifestations of pollutants, has been shown to increase chances of heart attack and stroke.There’s noise pollution. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), noise is a close second to air pollution when it comes to negative impact on our bodies. We know that noise pollution can cause hearing loss and sleep disturbance, but it might come as a surprise to discover that it also can result in learning problems in children and even exacerbate cases of heart disease. The primary contributors tonoise pollution include transportation vehicles, machinery, appliances, and mechanical equipment. For the more than 87% of Americans living in cities that far exceed the 70 dB limit over time, the consequences can be grave.
"Noise is a close second to air pollution when it comes to negative impact on our bodies."
There are also the social costs. The time spent getting from A to B every day can significantly cut into the time we might otherwise spend with our families, friends, or simply with ourselves. Because commuting and all of this ‘lost time’ have become necessary and accepted aspects of our lives, we regularly sacrifice meaningful moments every single day. The result is a society that is both isolated and frustrated.
What if we could be energized?
These examples all illustrate how our current transportation paradigm is actually draining us of our resources.It’s worth remembering that the car was first invented as a solution. It was meant to help people travel greater distances in shorter amounts of time at a lower net energy cost. But over the years, this solution has fostered its own set of problems. And while many external variables have evolved and changed in the last century, the car has remained largely unchanged since the days of Henry Ford.
The time has come to re-imagine the car as something more than merely a means of transport. Instead, it can be a fully connected living environment, equal in function and engagement to a home, an office, or even a vacation destination.
“The electric light did not come from the continuous improvement of candles.” - Oren Harari
With the advent of electric and autonomous vehicles comes a real and tangible opportunity to conserve energy – in all its forms. Not only do these innovations dramatically reduce society’s drain on fossil fuels – generating incalculable benefits for the environment – they also promise to return hundreds of hours to us that have been otherwise co-opted by the existing methods of commuting. The endgame here is to give people more control over how they want to spend what’s most precious: their time.
Imagine a world in which our vehicles were connected across our devices, and to the devices of those around us. Our cars could communicate, reducing congestion. Less congestion would mean that you could leave later for work, sleep in longer, spend more time with your family, or providing more opportunity to exercise.
It would also dramatically reduce the number of accidents, due in large part to human error. Advanced Driver Assistance Systems – or self-driving vehicles – would address accessibility concerns, making transportation readily available to those unable to drive themselves. Parking headaches could be avoided altogether in a world of connected vehicles. We would optimize our time on the road catching up on emails, sleeping, or video chatting with our loved ones.
Noise pollution would drop significantly since electric vehicles can operate near-silently. Removing a cumbersome central engine can unshackle the potential for vehicle design, allowing for new ergonomic solutions to encourage healthy seated or reclined positions, better circulation, posture, and alignment. Altogether, societal stress levels would plummet while healthy citizen indexes would surge.
Until now, automotive redesigns have focused more on improving the aesthetics of our cars than on improving the functionalities fundamental to our lives. The truly valuable vehicle of the near-future will be a sophisticated, personalized device that – much like our other devices – earns our devotion with each and every interaction. It will also marry traditional automotive performance with enhanced safety and connection to every aspect of our lives.
This is the moment to design a car with real-world applications and mass societal benefits – to reinvent mobility solutions for a changing world, and tackle the problems we face today, and will face tomorrow, head-on.