Yesterday, I posted a book review from six years ago on Mitchell Duneier’s Ghetto: The Invention of a Place, the History of an Idea.
Reading old work can be, as the kids say, cringe. And I expect this very post will make me cringe in 2028.
My cringeworthy book review contains hip-hop lyrics, extended digressions into supplementary readings, a confusing conceit involving movie plots based on each chapter of the book, an imaginary comic-book franchise, and a concluding review-within-a-review containing a bullet-point summary of Robert A. Caro’s The Power Broker.
I joined Twitter in December 2008. For a polythematic reader, it was a good run. But it’s not the best place for a polythematic writer. I never quite figured out how to maintain a consistent theme, a consistent presence, or gain an active following. Au revoir.
Still, I’m not happy about how the site is getting Gawkered out of existence. The ongoing collapse will disrupt the lives of so many people who depended upon the site for jobs, for audiences, for a sense a community, for the slightest chance of resolving a consumer complaint, for drawing attention to political corruption and state violence and war.
Recently the Twitter algorithm has honed my attention on urbanism—zoning regulations, bike paths, high-speed rail, public transportation, and walkable cities. It’s exciting to see the unmistakable momentum in the urbanist movement, and I believe that the movement will outlast the platform that nurtured it.
I look forward to living in a city that has freed itself from the automobile. In the meantime, here’s an edited selection of circa-2015 journal entries about cars.
Cars and liberty. The historic connection between the automobile and the American ideas of liberty and freedom no longer resonates in a world with license-plate readers, on-board computers, location tracking devices, dependence on foreign oil and foreign rare earth metals, anthropogenic global warming, networks of smart-city traffic enforcement, and city planners committed to maintaining auto primacy at the expense of all other modes of transportation.
And now a word from your sponsor. Unlike private vehicles or public transport, self-driving cars offer advertisers the potential to control the entire experience with messaging, personalization, and upselling.
Skins for cars. If we move away from car ownership to car-sharing services, you’ll be able to add a digital “skin” to your vehicle. When you summon a car, it will arrive pre-loaded with your preferred video social networks, digital bumper-stickers advertising your preferred causes, and 3D-printed hood ornaments.
Engine ringtones. As a safety measure, quiet electric cars will have to signal their presence with a steady noise. You’ll get to choose what sound it makes, whether a nostalgic motor hum or a chugging steam engine. On the budget plan, your whip will sound like a flock of honking geese. Or pay the ringtone price for the sexy purr of a fine luxury sportscar.
Behavior-based license-plate signaling. Much more than self-driving cars, I’d really like to see driver augmentation technology. The vehicle itself should enforce good behavior, such as stopping at crosswalks for pedestrians and using turn signals. If any of these good behaviors are ignored or overridden, the vehicle should immediately activate the programmable LED lighting on the license plate. Green for following the augmentation; and progressively brighter shades of red to indicate: “Caution! Bad driver.” These signals should follow the driver whenever they drive.
The self-driving commute. A day in the life: from the home office to the mobile self-driving office to the classic office; and back again. Driving those in the knowledge-worker classes farther away from each other and from everyone else.
The wheels on the self-driving school bus go round and round. What’s going to be the new excuse for segregated schools if the bus drives itself and can take kids anywhere?
Self-driving car races. Very, very fast.
Self-driving. What they call it when the “self” is no longer in control of “driving.”
The plot against cities. How might a self-driving transportation network come about in a country that lacks both inter-city and intra-city infrastructure?
Step 1: Inflict pain upon drivers, commuters, bikers, walkers, everybody that moves. Keep cars stuck in traffic. Cut bus service. Make it dangerous for bikes and pedestrians.
Step 2: Introduce the solution, a technology-driven automated transportation network using driverless cars.
Step 3: Expand and export the business model to other cities.
This would be a replay of what happened when the automobile companies ripped out the trolley networks, except this time, the driverless car companies would hobble the alternatives to driverless cars.
Resistance. During the 1905 Hibiya riots, streetcars were set fire, as they “threatened the livelihood of the city’s many thousands of rickshaw pullers, who were numerous among the rioters and those arrested” (link). Note: This is not a prescription, merely an observation.
How technology works. Radical thought leads to new technology, which is then coopted by reactionary forces in the established order to crush radicals, leading to radical thought and so on. Examples: guns, bitcoin, writing, agriculture, democracy, internet, IoT, automobiles, religion in general, the Enlightenments.