Sunday, August 4, 2013

Vehicular Liberation

I started driving last week. I haven't gotten my own car yet, but Maddog let me borrow his 2003 Maruti Zen. After the very first day taking the car out, I felt my lifestyle had fundamentally changed. It was a surprising shift. All of a sudden I felt liberated. I felt empowered to go where I want, when I wanted. It felt a lot closer to my life in California, where I feel the most free and in control.

I have been trying to understand why having a car has changed my life so deeply. After all, before I still could go where I wanted, when I wanted. In theory. Getting around by rickshaw isn't hard in Ahmedabad. They are plentiful, you can usually find one within a few minutes, and you can pay set prices by the meter. So what's the big difference?

I've come up with several reasons. One, you sometimes do have to wait, and in certain places or times of the day it's tough finding a rickshaw at all. Two, you can't stop or change directions as easily. Three, drivers never carry enough change, so there is always background tension about paying for your ride. Four, there is always a chance the driver will try to rip you off or take you the long way, which is another source of background tension. Five, you're exposed to the elements, especially heat, rain, and pollution.

All of these are small inconveniences that when aggregated together over months and years makes for a less pleasurable experience. One thing most of the above reasons have in common is they are inconveniences experienced each time you ride a rickshaw. They are the transaction costs of rickshaw traveling. And each of these transactions carries a bit of tension with it. I think it's the 5-6 extra transactions a day that wore me down over time. You hardly notice it during the act, but once you don't have to do it, you are aware of your new-found freedom. With a car the main transaction is paying at the petrol station, but of course that's one transaction amortized across lots more traveling.

I wonder how improved life would be if we made "minimize/eliminate transactions" a design principle for society.

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