Humanity’s Greatest Achievement: The Car/Road/Highway System

Humanity’s Greatest Achievement: The Car/Road/Highway System

A rush-hour drive into Houston on the Southwest Freeway puts you smack in the middle of what I believe is collectively humanity’s greatest achievement. 2,000-pound deadly missiles traveling at 70 miles per hour, only feet from each other, are guided by perfect strangers (often wielding Starbucks cups or eye-liner) from every stratum of our social, economic, and education classes.

I challenge you to think of another accomplishment as ubiquitous (who does NOT have a car) or significant (matter of life and death every trip).

Find another accomplishment that puts the PhD economist lawyer beside or behind the high school dropout; the wealthy software mogul in their Tesla behind the near-homeless in an Escort; the religious with their rosary hanging on the mirror beside the atheist with their bumper stickers; the 80-year-old great-grandmother stopping to let the teenager go first.

Try to find an accomplishment at the root of freedom for so many. From that first drive alone with your new junior license, to all those work, hobby and vacation drives, to those drives to the grocery store in your 80’s.

What can compare? Our phones? Let’s face it, the phones and the networks at the center of our new social media world were invented by a few really smart people. And while it may seem life-and-death, that snapchat or lack thereof will not kill you (unless you are snapping WHILE DRIVING!)

The Internet? Certainly amazing, and daily actions taken by people globally contribute to this accomplishment, even if some of it is fake (yes, you cannot trust everything you read on the Internet even this article). But where is the life-and-death?!

Our democracy? Again, a few really smart people did most of the grunt work on that one, we are riding their coattails. And half of us want to scrap the whole thing for a different model. In many parts of the world the idea of people taking responsibility for themselves is frowned upon. Or worse just lip-service from authoritarian leaders. (But have those leaders try to take away people’s CARS! Then you would see democracy!)

Our medical sciences or any sciences in general? Amazing accomplishments, but..  a few really smart people! We are often passive at best in our use of these advances – certainly life and death significance, but our daily decisions have little impact.

Perhaps the closest rival is computer technology. Yes, you are right to point out that again it is a few smart people that made those computer advances, and that computer technology is at the heart of phones and the Internet, candidates already dismissed.

It is the promise (threat?) of computer technology – and how it affects driving – that moves it into my 2nd place. The elegance of the driving achievement is its decentralization: humans make so many of the important life-and-death decisions. One day computers will be making those decisions for us.

People will align into two camps (probably by age): You may want to drive MORE – since you aren’t actually ‘driving’ but being driven, I get that. I will drive LESS – I’ve seen too many Windows Updates, too many BSODs, too many phone updates and hang-ups!

Regardless of how you align, the accomplishment of humanity – of trusting people you do not know driving deadly missiles only yards from you – will diminish and never be the same: “I don’t know you Stranger-In-The-Car-Beside-Me, but I trust you with my life infinitely more than any car operating system those really smart people think up”!