This screed against car commuting is basically why I’ll never go back to living in a country where I can’t bike to work every day.
I only realized this after I left the states and stopped car-muting, of course, but time spent in transit in Seattle always just felt like time subtracted from my day. Even if I was listening to the radio, I wasn’t doing something in the same way as working, or reading, or being social.
Commuting in London, on public transport, was slightly better. At least on a train you’re not in control, you’re not operating any machinery more consequential than an iPod. You can read the newspaper if it’s not to crowded, or gawk at the walk-of-shamers as you rattle to work.
It was only when I moved to Denmark and biked out of necessity (poverty!) that I fell in love with it. It requires enough skill that you feel like you’re engaged in an actual activity, rather than the vacuum-like absence of one, but not so much that you can’t enjoy a smartypants podcast.
Biking in Berlin’s not as Cadillac-comfortable as it is in Copenhagen, and the distances are longer. But It’s significantly faster than public transport, and you find pockets of the city you never would have otherwise.
Drivers act, as in every car-based urban economy, like children being informed that they can’t have their birthday every day of the year. I get honked at with a regularity that I can only describe as German. Car commuters shout at me for committing acts that don’t affect them.
This all just makes me feel more smug (which, admittedly, has to be an official synonym for ‘bike commuter’ at this point, right?). I’m in the middle of doing something, while they’re waiting for their day to start.
For the last few years I’ve toyed with the idea of instituting a policy of total current-events abstinence. No newspapers, no blogs, no BBC World, at least for a few weeks. I’d still read, but I’d devote my time to history, economics and science. You know, looking at the world with binoculars rather than a microscope.
This comes from my growing anxiety that the hour I spend consuming daily news and analysis isn’t actually teaching me anything. X celebrity died. Y is wrong on the internet. The former governor of Z is a living shenanigan.
The problem is that very little of the so-called daily news is actually news. I was reading this article today speculating about the Greek crisis and the end of the Eurozone. It’s interesting analysis, but I probably would have gotten more intellectual nutrition from just reading the currency union page on Wikipedia or this description of some other prior attempts.
If Greece decides to leave the euro, that’s legitimate news. But until that happens, am I really learning anything from speculation and various never-gonna-happen scenarios?
We have a strongly entrenched cultural value that being informed of current affairs is synonymous with intelligence. You can use ‘what do you think is going to happen with Greece?’ as a conversation-starter in a way you can’t with, say, ‘Why do you think communism failed?’
I wish I knew of more publications that occupied a space between news and history. Somewhere from rough draft to conventional wisdom, there are a lot of lessons to be learned, and a lot of former lessons to be edited. If journalism’s mandate is to inform the public, this is what it should be doing. And it would be a nice transition into forgoing it entirely.