Case Study: Rush Hour
It's 8:30 in the morning. As I wait for my eggs & bacon to cook, I consult the trusty Google Maps app on my phone.
It's 8:30 in the morning. As I wait for my eggs & bacon to cook, I consult the trusty Google Maps app on my phone. Every morning I can be sure I'll find some unidentified "Incidents" scattered throughout the valley, along with at least one or two accidents, and plenty of yellow and red lines weaving across the city's major roadways. As I zoom in, the lines triple, quadruple, become denser, creating a veritable spiderweb of traffic. Within each of these red and yellow lines are buttoned-up businessmen browsing through email on the way to work, single mothers applying makeup and arguing with their drowsy kids, and relatively inexperienced high school & college students wolfing down Circle K breakfasts over endless News Feed scrolling...and we wonder why it's all red and yellow out there.
"You are not stuck in traffic. You are traffic."
Did you know ants handle traffic jams infinitely better than people do? An ant brain has 9,750,000 fewer cells than a human brain—that's only two and a half percent the noodle capacity of every distracted person slamming on their brakes every minute of every rush hour, every day.
Why does Earth's most advanced species have such difficulty in numbers? The answer lies not in the individual human mind but rather in the "collective consciousness" of terrible drivers far and wide. It's a wave effect, starting with the countless drivers way ahead of you, and growing into a mass of brake lights flickering ominously across your field of vision, turning your 70-mph cruise into a hesitant, 30-mph brake-dance (see what I did there?). This distracted, thoughtless practice of doing a million other things while we drive is one of the largest contributors to why traffic turns into jams, and accidents turn into pileups.
Now, we could blame Corporate America for making everyone leave the house at the same damn time, and spend decades trying to change a system we already know is slow to respond and rarely willing. Instead, let's make a case for the solution I like to call just a couple short years away.
Meet Google's cute attempt at a self-driving car. While we probably won't get to ride in [a much cooler version of] one until circa-2017, what we have learned from this technology so far can remind us of an important lesson: cars already basically drive themselves. Despite needing a human to punch in the executive orders, the cars we drive today already do just about everything else backstage—many of which we wouldn't even know how to do ourselves, such as calibrating torque and sensing objects we can't see. It's only matter of time before the car is taking care of its own turn-by-turn navigation, while we recline into bed for some extra shut-eye on the way to work.
Conclusion: While we wait for technology to (once again) save us from ourselves, we can start by leaving a few minutes early, consulting popular Map apps for least congested routes, and making sure we haven't got any urgent friend requests pending before we hit the roads in our 4,000-pound death-mobiles on the way to our myriad nine-to-five jobs—which, to be honest, are the main reason why red & yellow lines can be seen snaking into the city every morning, and out of the city every evening. It's a major waste of the reason most of us even have these jobs, and it's time to make a change. I'm guilty, you're probably guilty (right?), and I'll bet almost every driver out there today is guilty too. We're not blaming, we're just going to help the situation. If you live less than 5 miles from work and you don't need to bring along huge amounts of equipment every day, how about a bike ride once a week? Dare I say twice? What about if you live near the Light Rail or one of its convenient Park-n-Rides, and you also coincidentally work within walking / biking distance from it? I'll let you answer that one.