I once spent a semester visiting Stanford University. Sometimes I walked the several miles from northern Mountain View to the campus in Palo Alto, sometimes I took a bike. For a few weeks I drove in a borrowed car. I was endlessly fascinated by how immensely different each of these experiences was from the other two.
Every time I walked, I would discover some new cool shop, eatery or bookstore. In months of walking those two miles, I was never bored. On the bike I was much more efficient (and was probably getting more exercise). But I never did stop the bike to check out anything on the way — it was pretty much a straight shot every time. In the car, I might as well have been on Mars. The trip was very quick and short, but there was no real consciousness at all of anything between my driveway and the campus parking lot.
Sally’s insightful scholarship that touches on Google’s Project Glass and self-driving cars (in her comments posted over the last few days) remind me of that comparative experience of walking/biking/driving.
It does indeed feel as though we are entering an era when many pedestrians are becoming ever more like car drivers. They are in touch with a rich information space, but that space rarely, if ever, includes the immediate physical world beneath their feet. Instead, the walk to work will be part of their work day. Morning meetings will start not when you reach the office, but when you start walking to work.
In a way this is sad, just as I found it sad at Stanford that people who only drove to campus may never have learned how wonderful and interestingly quirky was the neighborhood in which they lived.
On the other hand, “driving by foot” is probably healthier for you than driving by car. Assuming, of course, that the robot cars are smart enough not to run you down.