The automobile supported the massive growth of individualism in 20th century. Slowly the individual - a development that took its beginning during the Enlightenment - became the blueprint for the rules, regulations and standards of the society of the 20th and even more pronounced the 21st century.
Until today the car is surrounded by the flair of freedom, power and manliness, a whole lore of psychology enmeshes this cult object of industrialization. Despite the fact that we spent many hours in traffic jams to reach our goals., that congestion dominates flow, the car didn’t lose its magic.
By driving our economy it became a symbol of capitalism and progress. Today the car is a streamlined moving something. Thousands of thousands contribute to the destruction of our environment. They look all the same now. Unfortunately, the automobile lost the lovable personality it used to have when it was born around 1900.
The steam engine was the beginning of the conquest of space. Suddenly space and time started to move closer to each other. All the centuries before humans were discovering time by observing the sky’s changes and collected amazing knowledge that still holds until today. We were part of the universe, the stars gave orientation, helped us to find our bearings when traveling the earth, the oceans. Progressing in space, getting from one place to other, took a lot of time. Speed was slow and not of concern of philosophical thinking and the tender seedlings of natural science.
With the invention of the steam engine things changed rapidly, the shrinking process of our world started. Suddenly time, space and speed were perceived as connected. Space, time and speed became topics of concern. That was the foundation which made it thinkable for Einstein to invent, others may say discover, the theory of relativity... but I get carried away, sorry for that.
At the turning of the 19th to the 20th century the car followed the locomotive. At that time trains had already started a devastating crusade of destruction and killing in parts of our globe, a process that remained ignored and unnoticed for round about 150 years.
The car emerged accompanied by women‘s lib and other movements praising the individual and its rights, a long awaited aftermath of the French Revolution. On the other hand it played an important role in the mode of warfare that brought so much suffering over Europe.
The car was a huge step towards the individualizing of our societies and an incredible privilege to have. My grandfather was one of those, who already drove a car in the early 20ies, beautiful vehicles, more resembling a horse carriage than an automobile.
Over the decades cars turned into a symbol of moving independently, shaking off the constraints of the place, time getting a less important variable to consider. Holidays suddenly became an option for most of us, with the aeroplanes this became even more obvious... traveling became a mass movement due to the fact that the relation between time, place and speed changed completely.
For me the car was a symbol of independence too. It meant freeing myself from my mother’s time schedule. With 18 I had my driving license. With the very generous parents I had — they let me drive their car whenever they didn’t need it, my degree of moving multiplied. I was happy. My generation didn’t know any worries about the environment or energy. When I was a kid in the 50ies cars have been a rare phenomenon, no environmental concern for nobody.
Today our globe drowns in cars. The energy they need, the exhaust they leave behind, the soil they destroy due to the massive network of roads they require and last but not least, the scrap, they turn into in the very end confront us with problems we have not found any solutions for yet.
We are too much in love, we are too lazy, we are too dependent. But only be endurance, courage and passion we change.
These thoughts occurred to me, when sitting on my terrace in Holualoa on the Big Island of Hawaii. Here you find cars from rusty almost falling apart to shiny rich with the nose up. Well, it’s hard here to move without a vehicle. Anyway, I don’t know whether it’s really necessary that almost each house has its own carpark regardless of social standards.
No reason to blame the Hawaiian population. If I look at our rush hours, where traffic jam became the normal, then we can see that in each car sits one person only. In Los Angeles the authorities try to encourage people to join carpools by an extra lane on the Highway. This lane is so much faster, because the majority of people still drives alone, and the congestions therefore are massive.
The poorer societies are the more at least the scrap finds useful use. The broken cars are exploited for their spare parts until the very end. But then they are left behind in the most scenic places on the Island, sad leftovers or pieces of art as nature takes them over and incorporates them into the landscape?
And again applies: From dust we come to dust we go.