Lagging behind our cleverness!

A friend of mine asked me what did I mean by this passage:

[NOTE: The computer is similar to the motor car in this, we are still trying to come to grips with that technology as well. …]

in a previous blog. He did not quite get what I meant even though we have discussed the basic outline of this idea over a cup of tea…

Simply put, as a society we have advanced in leaps and bounds in technology, in science, but socially, we have often lagged behind our cleverness.

Put another way, until the second half of the twentieth century, we had not considered the idea of “future shock.” We had no need to. Now it is real, a very real phenomenon. Many people are seriously asking “Where will it all end?” I would suggest the question should be “Where to next?”

This provides a simple background to my comment above. We have become so absorbed by these questions and in our use of the technology, that we are missing some discernible outcomes.


Adelaide, for people who do not know it, is a small country town on a low rolling plain, well, OK, it is flat with a couple of small bumps in it. The Greater Metropolitan Area extends from Sellick’s Hill in the south, to just north of Gawler. Its western boundary is the Gulf of St Vincent and it extends inland to just east of Mount Barker.  The map above shows this is about 85 km north-south, and about 45 km east-west. Just over one million people live in this area. In short, it is a huge area for such a small population. It would not be possible to live in Adelaide without the motor car. It is incredibly wasteful of land and many of the State’s resources and much of its wealth.

In developing the way we have, we have allowed the motor car to dictate how the city has grown. Instead of  building upwards, as have older cities, we have spread out. We have taken the idea of “urban sprawl” to an extreme end of the ugliness scale. Government makes plans to change this, as the current Government is doing, and they are pilloried.

People complain “the Government” is not doing enough to fix the problems of our public transport network. The reality is that to make even minor changes to the infrastructure becomes horribly expensive when spread out over such a large area and with such a small population. The populist answer is to build new roads, which places pressure on governments to do just that. They comply and push Adelaide further into the clutches of the motor car.

These issues though are secondary, these are the effects of our worshipping of the four-wheeled monstrosity that dictates life in Adelaide. Where we are really struggling is in the simple precepts of cars. We have cars, metal boxes, riding on rubber wheels, on a metal surface. They are noisy, smelly, polluting, dreadful devices that have managed to evade common sense and good taste since the first cars took to the roads. How much longer will it be before we openly recognise, and acknowledge, the inherent dangers of the car. We know they are dangerous, but we persist with them anyway.

I have made a living from driving one of these things, then driving busses. I have used a car ever since I got my driver’s license and bought my first car. I have never trusted the car I have driven, I have never trusted the other road users, I have never trusted the essential ideas of the car, and have managed to make it this far in my life without hurting anyone with my car. And this is where the thought that we, as a society, are still struggling to come to grips with the motor car comes from.

Over the last 120 years we have built an impressive body of law, or rules, of habits to accommodate our love of personal transport. Yet, every holiday period, families are stricken with tragedy. People lose limbs, lives and laughter in a few seconds of churning metal and terror. Not just in Adelaide, but all over the world. We have been a bit luckier in Adelaide, road deaths have declined dramatically in recent years.

In Adelaide, it is easier to get a gun license than a driver’s license. There is no evidence that drivers are actually better trained, by the way, they need longer on their learners permits than ever before. There is an accumulating body of anecdotal evidence that would indicate that foolish ideas about what is “safe driving” are being propogated in the learning period. Probationary drivers are monitored a little more closely, but outside the wearing of a P sign on the car, they are subject to the same rules as anyone else plus a few rather inane restrictions of dubious value anyway. Drink-drive laws have been tightened to include prison sentences for second and subsequent offences. Speed limits have been reduced and are heavily policed. Fines are growing, every year, licenses being taken away for longer periods, and much, much more have all contributed to the success of the road safety campaign. All this has happened at a huge cost, one that we cannot calculate.

Police are being treated with increased hostility. Ambulance and rescue workers are assaulted because injured people do not want blood alcohol levels tested, so they resist.  Politicians are accused of stupidity when they make legislation that meets a need, but is later struck down by the courts over some obscure hair-splitting. These responses are attacking our institutions, undermining the confidence people used to have in them. Simply put, in response to increasingly draconian laws, people are losing trust.

What we are doing in Adelaide has reduced our road toll by more than two-thirds. It has been a successful strategy, no doubt about it. Unfortunately it demonstrates how we are really struggling with the role of the car in our society and the negative impact that it is having. We use technology but we barely understand it. It is outside our ability to truly, seamlessly, incorporate the car into the fabric of our society without massive trauma. Unfortunately, the downside is that in Adelaide, we cannot be without a car.

About colinfraser

I claim the title of educator, because I want to be more than "just" a teacher.
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