Freed No 2: Be nice to each other!
I already know what you’ll be saying once you’ve finished reading this: Why do I, of all people, need to be doing something different when everyone else just keeps on doing exactly as before? But let’s get into it regardless.
Out on the streets and on social media platforms, we talk about e-scooters as if they marked the end of modern civilised society. Cyclists opt to wear several layers of high-vis clothing at once because people behind the wheel with lead feet to seem to have lost their sense of their surroundings. And pedestrians get hot and bothered, shouting at cyclists regardless of the consequences. We complain about the fast-speed Hamburg-to-Munich train link being ten minutes late, or about the unacceptable state of public transport, which apparently leaves us with no choice but to reach for our car key. Or about cars that look as though they want to eat us alive. Traffic seems dangerous. It’s both unpleasant and unfair. But traffic is also the foundation for our freedom. For movement. For discovery. You wouldn’t be able to get by in major cities without it. Some folks even get a kick out of it and drive around aimlessly, without a specific destination. But that’s only acceptable if you do it on four wheels rather than two.
“Why has the aesthetics of threat and danger become a cornerstone of the world we live in? What is so attractive about being aggressive?” I ask myself this, as does Harald Welzer, a sociologist who is very vocal about social and utopian issues. Maybe by now you’re beginning to shrug your shoulders in discomfort or disinterest. Or you may also take the same view.
Go for a walk outside. Right now when you’ve finished reading this. I recommend that you really turn on all your senses. Really open your eyes and ears. Not like we usually do, shifting around with our eyes and thumbs glued to our smartphones. You know these moments full well. When someone fails to spot you for the umpteenth time as they turn off in their oversized vehicle on the Reeperbahn. Or when someone with headphones on their racing bike comes speeding towards you in the pedestrian precinct as if they were on a direct collision course.
But caution is called for, as it were, in many respects: Please don’t come complaining to me if this opens your eyes to what we do and what we accept every day. Individualism in the services we’re offered is a breeding ground for egoism. When we’re constantly made to believe we’re unique and that every service is tailored precisely to our needs in the most comfortable way possible then it will affect us all, no matter how many yoga studios and meditation retreats a society has at its disposal. “We follow the social logic of the special. The general is no longer worth anything,” says Andreas Reckwitz. Does that mean, thinking in terms of mobility, that public transport is in fact obsolete? With the possible exception of idealists and all those who can’t afford any alternative? And now along comes individual mobility with a sharing approach, which puts itself under the label of sustainability: e-scooters, mopeds and e-bikes. Apps for parking show me the way to the nearest parking space. Just for me! Car-sharing services mean I no longer need to worry about treating my car with care. Finally!
All these services are fantastic at the end of the day – so why all the scepticism? Well, there just aren’t enough resources to produce all those vehicles and, to make matters even worse, there isn’t enough space to let all of our individualism reign free either. Especially not in cities. There’s an incessant, unconscious competition for space and social status going on every second. Hand on heart, it’s no fun for any of us. And yet, paradoxically, we pursue this logic of not wanting to seem ordinary and normal. Is it any wonder that we speed down streets and along motorways with so much stress?
The answer doesn’t lie in an uncontrolled and individualistic consuming of sharing services. Not even when everything is electric and autonomous. The answer lies in curating an ecosystem of mobility instead of an ego system of mobility. With an attitude based around transparent goals and values that benefit all of us: Climate protection. More public spaces for coming together to enjoy fun and culture. A considerate and relaxed coexistence with one another. Starting from today, let’s all take a moment once a week to think about how someone else is getting on in traffic, instead of only focusing on our own interests all of the time.