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Hitchhiking - Arvind Narayanan's journal [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

Hitchhiking [Apr. 16th, 2008|07:29 pm]
Arvind Narayanan
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I've been trying to understand why hitchhiking culture died out in America starting in the 70s, and never came back. And wondering if there's even a remote chance that it will be revived.

There appear to be three factors that happened at around the same time:
  • A rise in actual crime starting in the late 60s
  • The growth of fear-mongering mass media resulting in an increase in perceived crime
  • The growth of the Interstate highway system and the government's discouragement of hitchhiking.

The New York graph is the most dramatic, but the story is the same nationwide.
What's the situation today? Crime rates have dropped dramatically beginning in the early 90s and are now back to pre-1960s levels. The influence of the mass media is dropping, especially among the younger crowd, although many people still perceive the streets as crime-ridden. The current perception/culture doesn't match reality at all. You'll have an easier time getting a ride in India for instance, where the crime rate is an order of magnitide higher. (Edit: not quite.)

In addition, there are compelling reasons for hitchhiking (and carpooling in general) that weren't as serious in the 60s: the price of gas and the difficulty of finding parking. Given all this, can hitchhiking make a comeback?

In a few years, ubiquitous location-aware mobile devices and web services running on top of them are going to make it stupidly easy for people to organize ridesharing with strangers. So my best guess is that it's going to come back but in a different form: instead of sticking out your thumb you broadcast a request on your iphone which cars in the vicinity receive. In fact, if you're automatically shown the hitchhiker's info on your phone (or your dashboard), you're much more likely to give them a ride.

Technological change often precipitates social change, so who knows, once hi-tech hitchhiking becomes common maybe old-fashioned hitchhiking will also become more acceptable.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: hukuma
2008-04-17 01:38 am (UTC)
It's interesting that hitchhiking is basically dead, but casual carpool is pretty popular. I don't see why one is more dangerous than the other.
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2008-04-17 02:12 am (UTC)
i think it's partly because if you know anything at all about the other person, such as their phone number, then your willingness to trust them goes up a lot. but partly it's a self-reinforcing perception: i talked to a few friends about this before making this post, and one of them said "if someone was trying to hitchhike, i'd be like hmm, why's he doing that, he must be a weirdo."

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[User Picture]From: hukuma
2008-04-21 08:52 pm (UTC)
I don't think people in casual carpools exchange phone numbers. I think the association makes a big difference: people waiting to commute home—OK, people wanting to travel to another city—murderers.
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