Human Hybrid-Electrics: The Vehicles of the Future
By Steve Stollman
Steve Stollman foresees a time in the not too distant future when the vehicles of choice in world cities will be powered by human muscle and electric energy; a vision, coincidentally, reflected in Daniel Otelo's Minimo Gym concept vehicle.
PUCK magazine, in downtown New York City, gave political satire its most powerful boost. Its momentum has propelled it 150 years into the present day in the form of Comedy Central and millions of youtube videos. The impatience of these cartoonists with corrupt politicians, greedy accumulators and the webs they jointly constructed to rid us of our fortunes and futures, put them in the role of wise surrogate parents, preparing us for the real-world conditions that we were going to have to face in the post Civil War economy and society of the United States, in a difficult and fast-changing environment. PUCK U. printed 80,000 gaudy diplomas a week and awarded them to anybody with a thin dime and a little time, to laugh at power and privilege and its alleged prerogatives.
In the print world, it revolutionized its impact with full color. This took the movie industry another half century to do and the Electronic version still another half century. Mobilizing amazing humor, courage and wit, it is MAD magazine, Vanity Fair and the New Yorker today, and most lately CHARLIE HEBDO. If we did not have the benefit of the perspective that the revelations of absurdity provides, we could not survive the strange occurrences that surround us daily. Without the ability to capture and highlight the obvious, and often unavoidable contradictions, that arise out of the self-serving testimonials, of all of the one-dimensional purveyors of this ideology, or that web of mystical beliefs, how can we sort through them and figure out where we stand within them?
Our teachers are Socratic and skeptical and need to be, since there are so many contrary notions competing for your fervid loyalty and so little proof that any one is any better than all the rest. Many of us sift through the lot of them and pick and choose elements that appear to hold together, the way you would in a supermarket, looking for ripe ideas, squeezing them to ratify their readiness to be consumed. You do this at the same time as you are computing the value of venturing down the paths currently on sale, seduced by their sometimes ridiculously low prices, or put off by the high tariffs. We're careful shoppers but we're also captives of our habits and histories, and not that interested in what the person next to us is doing. That is, until the walls start shaking and the small stuff starts mattering a whole lot less.
Puck political carton circa 1900, could easily be applied in 21st century America
If you are going to hold up to ridicule those who have the means to harm you, the rich and powerful for instance, you must accept the possibility that they will take offense and try to do something to lessen your ability to do them damage. They may buy your publication and find a new editor or withdraw their advertising from it, or start their own. When PUCK magazine began to exert its influence, a group of those with opposing views, mostly defenders of the status quo, formed JUDGE, a practically identical journal in style. They pirated some of PUCK's best cartoonists by offering them higher renumeration, and relied upon the code of the illustrator, which is to give the client what they ask for, to deliver them of a counterbalance to their rival's popular messages. Fortunately, the public appreciated the quality of the original and remained loyal to it, and it enjoyed a longer and much more robust influence than its copycat's.
The co-option of anything is still one of the most insidious and dangerous effects that economic competition can produce. It is easy for the most powerful truths to be diluted down to punchlines in a situation comedy, with a laugh track primed to hold up to vigorous ridicule, any serious deviation from “acceptable” behavior. We are constantly being conditioned to enforce stereotypes on all individuals and commentaries according to categories that we hardly knew existed. There is even, inevitably, a character who is charged with challenging convention who must be portrayed as too complex to really understand, or secretly conflicted about his, or her, identity or worth. Our attitudes are manipulated the way a piece of french bread dough is, pulled and pounded and shaped until it fits the popular mode and than baked into its permanent shape. Unfortunately, a lot is lost in the process. Think of the difference between a perfect baguette, still hot out of the oven, and its fluffy replica, sealed in a plastic bag and devoid of taste, crust or character and you have the model of the actual in all of its glory and a world of sad phoniness.
It is true that creativity is not easy to find. We are, by and large, copiers and adaptors. Nothing wrong with that but the accompanying self-congratulations and inevitable egoism which is associated with calling oneself an “artist” or a creative person in general, too often barely conceals an army of sycophants copying somebody else's homework not tortured souls giving birth to difficult notions. Repeating the mistakes of the past, endlessly, by dressing them up in new costumes and disguises, preserves a sense of freshness on that which is perched on top of a mess of out-of-date rottenness.
The common bicycle broadcasts a powerful and important message, just by its existence. If “lighter is better”, a principle which has invaded and conquered the information and communication universes lately and lain them to waste, is applied to transportation, the age of the “bike”is upon us. The Internal Combustion Engine, ICE Age, is already over and what TESLA doesn't turn into yesterday's news, the “Shareable” and “Wearable”, pared down to its minimal expression, will. The opposite effect is happening in many parts of Asia like Vietnam and South Asia like India, where heavier motorcycles (some admittedly electric powered) are replacing bikes, as symbols of higher status.
Being carried along, without conspicuous effort, can feel almost magical. Preserving the element which can be defined as “self-propelled” or “muscle-moved” is essential though, for any vehicle that wants to call itself a “bike”, or it just becomes another kind of motor transport, and we certainly have enough of them already. We may be lazy by nature but there is no doubt that this is the way we are being aggressively nurtured. Self-drive cars? Will robots shave you too and brush your teeth? Can you manage a fork and knife at the same time so that your food can be broken down into bite-sized pieces or will that need to be done for you too, like you were still two years old? If you are too weak and rendered unable, it is understandable. Otherwise, it is not.
At the same time as we are miniaturizing the personal equipment that we depend upon for many tasks, the systems that maintain these devices are growing larger and more consolidated. This is a good thing in many respects because the economies of scale provided by this massive adoption of personal communication devices has brought the costs down considerably. Meanwhile there is the ever-present danger that this consolidation will result in huge monopolies that will manipulate the charges and raise them into the upper atmosphere, while thwarting better technology and ignoring risks to the environment or insults to human dignity. The beneficial effects of competition can evaporate on overheated trading floors. There is also the matter of tacit conspiracies in various industries, among the few large companies that invariably control each one, to maintain a certain level of charges for all of their sakes. This is not just an attack of paranoia either though these kinds of tacit arrangements can not always be proven very easily, no matter what the facts clearly reveal.
The recent victory for “Net Neutrality” gives hope that concerted action by millions of stake-holders can influence public policy after all and restrain the influence of the largest factors. This is not the way that these things usually are decided though and it is not easy to keep your constituency constantly on the alert and ready to send in all those emails and sometimes it just doesn't work, no matter how much effort is put into the struggle. If you do care what is going to happen next, you are already used to the hills and valleys that make up expectations and accomplishments, so you are also used to that rocking motion while you're rolling. Eventually we are going to fully remember how exciting the creative process can be, when you are not so frightened to use it that it is locked in an access-proof vault, in a part of your mind that only comes into being in your dream-life.
Please visit www.LightWheels.com for some examples of what I think are the missing links in our current transportation systems. My intention is to build them. If you want to help, let me know. Also please consider making a comment about them, sweet or sour, in the space provided below, to help spice up this bubbling stew of words.
Originally published: 14 Mar 2015
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