Golem: His Pedal Extention

        56.  My grandmother always called the automobile "the Machine," and surely it is the problem-child of our mechanical age. There are already too many words about it. But what the hell.

        What interests me is how reluctant I feel to pick up hitchhikers, despite my belief that this modest act is now one of the more important ways in which we extend a community of sharing. But my spirit is seldom free for this. Usually it is out of balance with my condition -- assaulted by information and encounters, all kinds of technologically augmented stress -- and seeks each scrap of privacy in time and space for equilibrium.

        57.  A bicycle extends the foot. A motorcycle extends it more and extends the eyes, voice, and circulatory/ metabolic/ respiratory systems as well, along lines modeled more fully by "lower" life forms. A car extends all these and extends one as an integral skinned structure also. Cars (planes, trains, etc.) are thus unique in kind as pedal extensions: they have achieved a first degree of completion: they are mobile Houses.

        The course of their evolution is already indicated in their popular elaboration into travel-homes. As features like skin-centered temperature systems develop, they tend toward primary functional completion. As inertial guidance systems, car stereos, and automatic headlights develop, the mobile extension of the sensory system becomes a primitive extension of the system of memoried intelligence. In war, the mobile House has already developed a step further  -- its present apex is ICBM/Apollo, with functions under unified control by an independent computer intelligence, directed toward externally programmed goals. From here, the step to auto-reproduction is relatively small in kind; and my grandmother's Machine advances on a line of evolution that converges at some distant point with that of the Living Houses that genetic technology may create.

        58.  As Housing, automotive technology is subject to broad rethinking, especially in its aspects of Protection and Space.

        Space is many things to us, and our needs and grasping are as intense about it as about material things. In fear of the Void, we are driven to want; we strive, we acquire, and in this generate the destruction of our satisfaction, so that the substance of the object fades and leaves us to want again -- not differently, but more. Likewise, we armor ourselves with space, in privacies often brutalized in the moment of their achievement by the concomitants of the technologies that make them possible. And I ride invaded by shame I cannot shake off, passing the hitchhiker whose eyes and need I refuse to meet.

        59.  The shame is for my imbalance, not for my own need. For our dependence upon private space, or at least space alone, is a fact as well as a problem, as communes find when unbalanced communal enthusiasm and limited means pack them to choke on the poisons of living too closely together. (8)  (Clearly, adequate housing technology is essential to any broad social experimenting with the family group.)

        Culture-wide, our needs for space and things are frozen into our greed for their exclusive control; and the operations of profit organize our industrial technologies unrelentingly around private rather than common uses. Thus develop the car and its gross under-system of freeways, rather than communal transportation systems. If people could ride pullman compartments on airplanes they would. The engineering to divide cars or buses reversibly into private quiet compartments is simple, cheap, and need-satisfying. Yet their design to make company feel intrusive is profitable, for it floods the bridges with stressed commuters who would rather ride alone before they suffer at the office. Breathing the smog, they complain about how technology's killing us.

        60.  Most car travel, short and long, is solo.

        Cars with their Housing re-engineered. A system of strategic traffic-exchanges, where lanes sort cars past pausing-places where people gather for destinations. A custom of pausing to pick up and drop off, driver or passenger each as private as he wishes, minimal effort or bother. Maybe some standard distance-fare if it comes to that. No personal sacrifices, no massive industrial revamping, all quite feasible; it could cut in half the cars needed for our present habits.

        Already we see a first image of this Way of using automotive technology in the hitching habits and places of the nomad young, as these are developing around San Francisco Bay. And already the State moves to outlaw this practice. For such a transformation of a technology cannot come without broad changes in values, from greedy to those that go with our needs being more satisfied by being of live service to others.

        61.  I keep circling back toward Profit, and why not? In its aspect of Mobility, the car was engineered around the internal combustion engine and its poisonous dependence upon dead fuels. We owe that decision to Profit. It is only natural that those who ransack tombs for gold would be careless with the old warnings that we must deal with purifying care with what comes from the world of the Dead.

        In the car's early development, external-combustion steam power was as useful as gasoline, in terms of results. Steam machines were simpler of design, more easily user-maintainable, and burned unspecialized fuels more completely. For the sake of profit, their development was abandoned. Interests in heavy industry and natural resources purchased the Government and the popular imagination, and forced our priorities to a power-technology more costly in all ways.

        Through such perverse progresses, we have become dependent upon technologies whose requirements dictate our exploitive relationships with other men and the earth. The domestic politics and foreign politics of Oil furnish a dramatic example.

        Whenever the development of technology is guided by and for the uses of centralized power, rather than of people's full self-determination, the course will be similar.

        62.  In giving us the choice of extending our powers, cars make limiting them a matter of choice also. We are not good at this. So we use cars in ways that make walking hard and generate the need for more cars. The ecology of our motion moves in destructive spirals through unbalanced extension. At the center, choking and sedentary, the human body dies with its spirit.

        In a socialist society with a healthy ecology of transport, a trip by extended motion system would look like this:

        Cars, collectivized to match the customs, would reside at the traffic exchanges. Around these would extend neighborhood systems of bikes and their thoroughfares, redesigned to accommodate multiple riders, babies, packages, etc., and terminating in the (unlocked) block bike-rack. The operation and distribution of bikes, cars, and their stations would be designed to satisfy not only local mobility needs, but the needs of health of the bodies using them. And custom would follow ecological suit. One's ave. daily min. req. of cycling (or equivalent muscle activity) would be a matter of common knowledge and practice; and the spacing of houses, stores, and car-stations would in turn be designed around it.

        Such a technology of person-transport would revolutionize short travel; the materials/energy it consumes would be reduced by a factor of ten. New habits plus re-engineered power could do the same for long travel. In neither case would our personal capacities be diminished in any way.

        63. Our habits, mainly, make technology wasteful. The bicycles of Amerika, if collectivized, would provide for one-tenth of mankind. The contradictions of a capitalist economy of abundance are amazing. Why do we laugh when we hear that tests show you can get around in most towns about as fast by bicycle as by car? Is it because car-streets are the main components of cities, occupying more space than the buildings, and we cannot imagine what we'd do with them if we banned all but delivery auto traffic, as the Goodman brothers long ago proposed for Manhattan?

        We spend $60-$80 billion a year on automotive technology (some $15,000 per injury). Yearly model changes account for 25 per cent of new-car price, some $6 billion of this. Common ownership and ride-sharing would reduce the remainder by one half to two-thirds. Rational speed limits and vehicle redesign for twice the life, half the weight, and simplicity of repair would reduce this in half again -- that is, to 15 to 22 per cent of the present figure. (All this is without guessing in the results of conversion to a different energy-technology or to light-weight impact-oriented structural forms, more plastic than metal.) My figures may be a bit optimistic, but any serious computation will demonstrate that, given the present structure of highways, we're wasting roughly as much per year on cars as we did for the whole Vietnam war -- and for much the same reasons at heart.

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