Wednesday, November 14

Taking the Ego out of Driving: Part 1

One of the great problems of the US trying to comply with Kyoto is that it would require getting Americans out of their cars. Apparently this is an even more deadly rail of US politics than messing with Medicare. Why? I've come to believe it's because our egos are tangled up with driving... what we drive, how we drive, what other people see when they see us in our cars, the whole shebang.

How does this ego-car fusion take place? I think part of it is that we have constructed the car so that the driver occupies the same place in the car that the eyes occupy in our skulls. We have created robots to command and control (insert evil laugh).

I think another part of it is the abundance of choice. In a marketplace that is saturated with options that satisfy our needs... cars that will carry two, four, six, or eight people; cars that will allow us to carry feed to farm animals and tools to our homes and workplaces; we have the option to make choices based on want. So we buy cars that reflect our self-image. Cars that are beefy. Cars that are refined. Cars that are beautiful. Cars that are zippy.

The challenge, then, is to encourage car change without directly threatening this egoic connection. The Prius and the Smart Car do this by appealing to self-images that say, "I am smart and efficient." "I am lean and agile." That's a start. My local transportation district runs adds suggesting that riding the bus means you can arrive at work relaxed. That's a start, but it doesn't address that for many of us, riding the bus means remembering times in our lives when we were broke. So it evokes a feeling of being out of control. Especially when contrasted to the high-control experience of driving your own car where you want.

There is, however, a public transportation experience that is nearly universersally enjoyed, even with the hassles of being on someone elses schedule and not getting to be in the brain box... it's flying. Sure, lots of people claim to hate flying, but most of us fundamentally do enjoy it or else we would avoid taking trips that meant we had to fly. And we don't.

So, what is it that sets flying apart from riding the bus? Comfortable secure seats. A cabin that's cleaned thoroughly once a day. Privacy. Getting to the destination faster instead of more slowly. Clean, sheltered, safe places to wait.

There's still some ego involved in flying. You can buy more privacy, more comfort, and better food to distinguish yourself from others. But all air flight involves having people poke through your stuff so you can let someone else fling you through the air at 500 miles an hour.

In terms of getting people out of their cars, air travel has been a remarkable success, and perhaps it offers some suggestions for other applications.

1 comment:

corey said...

I found your BLOG interesting and I heard a story on NPR about the model T and ford and gm's success and advertising strategies that address your very "ego" theory and very much that was intentional in car advertising. coco

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NotSoBigLiving is the story of a woman inspired by Sarah Susanka, Bill McKibben, Airstreams, Tumbleweed houses, Mennonites, Jimmy Carter, hippies, survivalists, Anasazi, Pema Chodron and Joko Beck, Scott Peck, Buckminster Fuller, and Al Gore to see what she can do to reduce her carbon footprint in her mid-80's suburban townhome. Strategies include roommates, alternative travel, organic eating, planting a victory garden, mindfulness, and a belly full of laughter.