Transportation apps promised to eliminate friction. But at what cost ?

In the vision of the “frictionless” city shared by many technology players, where virtually all city services, human interactions and consumer experiences must be mediated by a digital application or service that not only eliminates the need to deal directly with another human but puts technology at the heart of those interactions, there’s no serious attempt to address deep-rooted issues, at least outside of rhetorical flourishes. Venture capitalists’ decisions to fund companies that are transforming the way we move, consume and conduct our daily lives should not be seen as neutral actions. Instead, they push visions of the future that benefit them by funding the years-long efforts of corporations to monopolize their sectors and push to change regulatory structures in their favor. Moreover, rather than questioning the domination of the automobile, their ideas almost always seek to prolong it.

After more than a decade of being inundated with idealized visions of technologically enhanced futures whose benefits have not been shared in the manner promised by their promoters, we should instead consider what kinds of futures they are far more likely to create. . I sketch three scenarios that are much more realistic, and which illustrate the world being created: First, it is even more segregated according to income; second, it is even more hostile to pedestrians; and third, he wants to use non-responsible technological systems to control even more aspects of our lives.

The green closed city of Elon Musk

There are three main aspects to the vision presented by Musk (putting aside his space colonization plans). The first concerns electric personal vehicles. Musk believes in “individualized transportation,” which means automobiles should continue to be the primary means of mobility, and most of the problems that come with an automobile-centric transportation system should be ignored. However, his vision is more than just a preference for personal vehicles, and luxury vehicles in particular. In 2019, Musk unveiled the Cybertruck, an unusual vehicle not because Tesla had never made a truck, but because it was inspired by dystopian science fiction and designed to withstand brute force attacks. The vehicle has panels that cannot be dented with a hammer and windows that are supposed to be bulletproof. Although the latter didn’t work out during Musk’s public demo, the decision to fit such features into an incredibly large vehicle probably speaks volumes about the personal fears underlying Musk’s ideas for the future. .

The second element of Musk’s vision is the use of solar panels, especially those attached to suburban homes. After buying SolarCity, Musk championed the idea of ​​homeowners generating their own electricity through rooftops and solar panels that could be used to charge their electric cars, top up their home batteries, and potentially even make them a profit by feeding the grid. The third and final piece of the puzzle is the tunnel system dreamed up by the Boring Company that turned out to be nothing more than narrow underground roads for expensive vehicles with autonomous driving systems – if they really are made. These aspects also show Musk’s preference for sprawling suburbs of single-family homes over dense, transit-oriented development.

If we were to believe Musk, the vision he promotes for a green future is one that will solve the climate crisis, along with many other urban and mobility issues. Yet putting these three elements together and considering them alongside the trajectory of our capitalist society reveals a different kind of urban future. Without altering underlying social relations, these technologies are likely to reinforce the growing wealth tendencies of tech billionaires and the desires of these billionaires to shut themselves off from the rest of society.

Recall that the first of the tunnels proposed by Musk was designed to make it easier for him to get to and from work without getting stuck in traffic with everyone else. Rather than a network of tunnels for the masses, such a system could be redeployed as one designed by and for the wealthy, inaccessible to the public and connecting only the places the wealthy frequent: their gated communities, airport terminals private and other exclusive places. neighborhoods of the city.

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