We constantly hear that driverless cars are just around the corner. We’re told they will revolutionize transportation and enable us to continue using our car-based transport and land-use system. If they’re made by Tesla, they’ll be powered by magic, solar-powered, super efficient batteries and we’ll all be able to keep living our hyper-mobile, hyper-consumptive lifestyles without any damage to the environment. The only problem is we’ve been hearing about all this for the last five to ten years and there’s no evidence that it’s anything but the same old technological, utopian dreck that we’ve been hearing since General Motors debuted “Futurama” at the 1939 World’s Fair.
Technological utopianism fueled by science fiction is nothing new. If you’ve never seen it, watch Disney’s short animated film “Magic Highway” from 1958. It’s remarkably similar to this recent promotional film for an Elon Musk tubular underground transportation systemin Los Angeles. They’re both fantasies that maintain our inefficient, car-oriented transportation and land-use systems and help the Automobile Industrial Complex retain its stranglehold on our imaginations. They’re also fantasies that dovetail with corporate capitalism’s fantasy of automating the entire workforce and using technology to eliminate jobs and reduce costs.
In many ways, driverless cars have all the makings of a massive cult–the Cult of Technology. This is the idea that technology will somehow solve the problems of human greed, over-population and over-consumption of planetary resources, and therefore will also solve the related problems of climate change, waste, pollution, and species extinction. It’s an old fantasy but one we still buy into. It preys on our laziness and gullibility and it distracts and deludes us so much that we can’t see basic realities staring us in the face.
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