in further commentary on Tom Standage’s The History of Motion comes the addition of concepts and terminology that has entered into the English Language (and by extension those of other countries) by the introduction of an automobile based society.
I mention this because certain cultural norms and attitudes are formed by the technology that is standard during one’s adolescent development. Take, for example, my parents generation. The three key influences for those born in the 1920s were 1) the Great Depression 2) WWII & 3) the automobile. The first was economic, affecting some more than others and the rare few not at all. The Second World War changed lives, increased technology, and created (and took away) a vast varieties of opportunities. But the car? They grew up in a society that saw cars and ownership as the norm, They experienced life oriented around personal rather than public transportation. Again – I am primarily referring to the US and by extension Canada and Australia as countries that didn’t have the inherent limitations of centuries of land ownership and embedded systems of transportation. Cars were effectively the new covered wagons.
The closest I can come for comparison is the effect computers had on my oldest daughter’s generation or the cell phone on those of my youngest children (having both Gen X and Gen Y/Millennial’s offspring).
But back to the car – according to Tom Standage, the availability of cars (including the old, used, beaters) allowed teens to escape parental scrutiny and permanently changed the dating and school culture of the US. (this might be a bit slanted toward the white, non-city population, but there you have it).
It certainly was true in the rural area where I went to high school. Accessibility of a car meant everything. It meant independence of movement. It meant the ability to have a job separate from the family. And, for the teen age boys with older brothers (which was the norm in my area) it meant access to beer, the truck and hanging out at the local quarry to drink…
Our society reformed around the automobile.
I hadn’t realized how true this was until we returned from Europe for the last time. The SF Bay Area does have an excellent public transportation network, for a US metro area. But it pales in comparison to Europe. But then, unlike many families, we have maintained one car rather than two for many years (exempting those years where we were physically running two households in separate countries. It is really had to share a car between England and Germany). We certainly haven’t needed more than one since we moved to Berkeley. Until the pandemic, frankly we were a prime example of folks who could have done just fine without a personal vehicle.
And since? Other than medical appointments which Amazon has not yet managed to package and deliver – just about everything we need can be dropped at the door.