Thursday, August 16, 2018

Trying To Fly Over Obstacles

            As more and more cars hit the roads, and there is an ever increasing amount of urban congestion, people are trying to think of new ways to deal effectively with the problem.  One way is to literally rise above the problem by developing flying taxis.  There was a cartoon series in my childhood about a futuristic family called the Jetsons who flew around in such vehicles, but it is only now that such vehicles are being turned into a reality.  Two kinds of vehicles are being considered: helicopters and passenger drones.  Supposedly the country of Dubai is going to start to use passenger drones in July of this year.  By the way, these vehicles are self-driving.

            They will supposedly supply a way for people accustomed to bumper-to-bumper traffic and bottlenecks to rise above them and go quickly from point a to point b.  Not only does a person not waste so much time in his travels, but he no longer has to experience the abrasively overstimulating tension-pocket that comes from being stuck in mounds of cars that are barely moving.  Instead, he gets to rise above the tension-pocket into the vast emptiness, the experiential vacuum that is the sky.  One goes from overstimulation into numbing understimulation, flying free from gravity, free from the full effect of one’s weight.  One goes from one kind of sensory distortion to another kind, each of which has harmful effects on the way a person experiences the world.  The bottlenecks and heavy traffic lead to burn-out and jadedness.  Flying in the sky leads to numbness.  Modern technology, as it has increasingly superimposed its own environments over more traditional organic environments, has increasingly moved people away from the spectrum of stimuli of natural environments that they are most capable of absorbing.  And alternately experiencing understimulation and overstimulation, numbness and burn-out, leads to the pathological behaviors that are exhibited in modern technological society.  In my more recent articles, I have focused more on the understimulation, because it is so much less focused on by most modern social scientists.  Everyone talks about the overstimulation of crowding from overpopulation, noise pollution, air pollution, etc.

            At any rate, once spaces have lost their organic grounding, they are susceptible to moving between the two extremes of sensory distortion.  Take shopping centers that at one point were very popular and had parking lots that were clogged with cars.  Their popularity leads them to become enormously overstimulating tension-pockets.  Lately, because of online shopping, more and more people no longer want to go to brick and mortar stores.  And these shopping centers that were incredibly congested, become ghost towns, enormous empty vacuum spaces.  Customers stop coming, store owners lose their leases.  And the tension-pocket turns into a vacuum.  Empty buildings and open empty asphalt and concrete parking lots.  Until some new use is found for the facility or the center is torn down and a whole new structure is built.  In either case, the new use of the property becomes popular and it becomes a tension-pocket again.

             I discuss this in relation to the notion of the flying taxis, because the people who have come up with this idea for transportation assume that by raising people above the tension-pockets of bumper-to-bumper traffic, traffic jams and bottlenecks into the relative vacuum of the sky, that they will solve the traffic problem for a long time.  Perhaps at first, flying taxis will be relatively expensive, so that the market will tend to be limited to more financially comfortable people.  But then, just like with commercial air flights, some companies will find ways of cutting costs and making flying taxi service available to a lot more people.  And as demand goes up, so will the number of flying taxis.  And the number of flying taxis will be far greater than the number of commercial air planes.  And this will turn the sky into another enormous noisy crowded tension-pocket.  And although the sky occupies a more three-dimensional area than the surface of the earth, it can still become an uncomfortable space with all the flying taxis and delivery drones that could be present in the not-so-distant future.

            And the experience of a tension-pocket sky will apply not only to the taxi passenger, who will find his trip slowed down by all the other small flying transport vehicles that will increasingly fill the air spaces surrounding his flying taxi.  It will also apply to people on the ground.  People looking up into the sky will no longer be able to use it as an experiential refuge against the crowds and the traffic jams that surround them on the ground.  They will no longer be able to get the balance of understimulation from the relative emptiness above them.  They will no longer have a place to rest themselves experientially from all the abrasive cacophonous stimuli that surround them.  Urban, suburban, even exurban areas will be filled with the stimuli of objects taking off and objects landing, not just in airports, but almost everywhere.  This will create a tension-pocket unlike any that people have experienced before.  Stress levels will rise.  People will search for experiential balance with more yoga, meditation, and drugs – anything that can effectively numb them in the face of the onslaught of abrasive stimuli.  Even at night, the sky, the moon and the stars will no longer be a source of romantic tranquility.

            Yes, even now, the sky is populated with commercial airlines and satellites.  But, unless one lives near an airport, one is not usually very aware of them.  Satellites don’t often come down to earth.  When they do make it to the surface, it is usually over the ocean.  And commercial airlines fly too high to be experienced directly by people on the ground, and when they land, they cluster near airports.  But passenger drones and helicopters aren’t going to fly so high for short excursions.  We will become inundated with all the commotion and noise they create.

            It is bad enough that we have skyscrapers blocking the sky in cities like New York and Chicago.  Now we will have a lot of flying objects disturbing the sky even in many areas away from the skyscrapers.  The real answer to urban crowding and traffic jams is to encourage people to move away from them as well as to have smaller families.  Fewer and more dispersed people is a healthier answer than flying taxis.

© 2018 Laurence Mesirow

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