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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:
From: (Anonymous)
2008-04-17 06:06 am (UTC)
Do you realize you've just reinvented the Sub-etha Thumb?

Now I know why your avatar says "Vote for Zaphod!"
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[User Picture]From: arvindn
2008-04-17 03:01 pm (UTC)
ha ha, i didn't realize it until you pointed it out. but i'm not surprised: science fiction writers regularly prove to be the most accurate forecasters of future technology.

but let me note with some amusement that actual technology yet again outdid the fictional world: not only have the guide, the thumb and the babelfish all been invented (or will soon be), they are all going to be realized in the same device :)

just like the miniaturization of computing made the sci-fi literature of asimov's generation look quaint a few decades later, convergence of computing devices is a pleasant surprise for all of us today.
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