Necessity

March 6, 2013 § 2 Comments

Three general categories for outside time as a modern animal:
None of these are mutually exclusive, obviously.

1. Adventures.  These are longer hikes and bikes, wanders and explorations. Day, weekend, or otherwise longer trips to see what you can see. Hikes with friends, go snowboarding, and other things mostly for fun.

Chickens on Kauai

If it ends in chickens, it’s usually an adventure.

2. Animal training.  Swimming, running, hiking, biking, etc for distance, speed, stamina, dexterity or strength (exactly like Dungeons and Dragons but with less pizza and Mountain Dew). Races, things with sets and reps, and things you time, mostly with the purpose of being a little less ‘modern’ and a little more ‘animal.’

3. Necessity.  Getting to work, getting groceries, getting home from the bar.

Depending on the time of year, where I’m living, and how terrible it is outside, I usually live in categories 1 and 3, and it weirds me out completely to think about how evolutionarily our bodies were built almost purely for #3, necessity. Nowadays, most modern humans in the United States barely do any of those things, category 3 least of all.

Twenty years ago, a large part of the 18-34 demographic would have balked at the idea of going outside as a necessity. Most of them still relied on cars and found driving more convenient than transit or walking/biking. More and more, this trend is being turned on it’s head. This generation is the first to reverse the literally seven decade trend of increasing vehicle miles traveled annually – from 2001 to 2009, the average annual number of vehicle miles traveled by 16-24 year olds actually dropped by a whopping 23%, from 10,300 to 7,9001.

It makes sense – young people flock to urban areas where it’s actually feasible to not own a car or not drive the one you have than the suburban or rural places that their parents have chosen to settle down and send them to school.

Other truths:

  • Gas is expensive and parking is a bitch – I may or may not have had my car impounded once for overdue parking tickets. When I lived in LA, it was faster to bike than drive often because traffic was so bad.
  • Young people get the whole climate change thing – Even if the NYT and Washington Post don’t.
  • Public transit is far more reliable as a day to day mode of transportation than it used to be now that you can get up to date info on arrival/departure times on your phone. When I was in college once, my friend and I forgot to look up the last train from SF to Davis and we ended up missing it and wandering around the city until the first train at 4AM. It was fine, but mostly crappy.
  • All of this has probably contributed to the rise in bike culture in the last decade. When I got to college in 2004, everyone was coming in with crappy mountain bikes from Target (myself included) or buying a brand new beach cruiser (we were 3 hours from the beach). Of course people didn’t like biking! They were pedaling around on bikes too small for them with twice as much weight/friction than they needed. By the time I graduated in 2008, the “in-thing” was to get an old 80’s road bike and cruise around town with a milk crate strapped to the back. Cheap road bikes didn’t exist in 2004, now you can get a $200 one from Wal-Mart.

As a result, ours is the only demographic of people that would rather give up their cars than their cell phones or computers. All of this is well and good, but even as this trend continues, the shift away from cars will plateau at some point without a shift in policy. In order to make a society-wide shift in how we move about, we need to make some pretty significant infrastructure changes across the board. Policy makers and entrepreneurs are, albeit slowly, taking note. City General Plans are actually including alternate modes of transportation into account and, even in giant suburbs like San Diego, are creating Citywide Bicycle Master Plans.

This is all very heartening, because the easiest way to be a modern animal is to do it because you have to.

I’m working 6 out of 7 upcoming weekends and blow through a 70 hour work week like it’s my job (cause, you know, it is) – I mostly think this is both necessary and pretty awesome, but it does mean I have to practice being a human animal in the in between. So, more biking to and from work, more running with my pack on for groceries (this is my favorite – schlepping to get food? how much more humanimal can you get?), and more pacing on conference calls.


1. http://www.uspirg.org/sites/pirg/files/reports/Transportation%20%26%20the%20New%20Generation%20vUS_0.pdf

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