Urban Fold

Are Cars Destined to Share the Fate of the Steamship and the Landline?

We're likely witnessing the beginning of the slow decline of a technology that's defined our transportation and land use policies for a century - the private car. Emily Badger explains how unnoticed events produce socio-technical transitions.

“We’re probably closer to the end of the automobility era than we are to its beginning,” says Maurie Cohen, an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry and Environmental Science at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. “If we’re 100 years into the automobile era, it seems pretty inconceivable that the car as we know it is going to be around for another 100 years.”

"Sitting in the present, automobiles are so embedded in society that it’s hard to envision any future without them," writes Badger. "But no technology – no matter how essential it seems in its own era – is ever permanent. Consider, just to borrow some examples from transportation history, the sailboat, the steamship, the canal system, the carriage, and the streetcar."

“There’s not going to be a cataclysmic moment,” Cohen says of what’s coming for the car. “Like any other technology that outlives its usefulness, it just sort of disappears into the background and we slowly forget about it.”

Full Story: What the Steamship and the Landline Can Tell Us About the Decline of the Private Car

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