The problem with new cars

The problem with new cars

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Our writer Ian Bogost wrote two articles last month that both left me wondering: What do our modes of transport say about who we are? I chatted with Ian about the end of the stick shift, the wobbly rise of the e-bike and why how we move evokes such strong feelings about our identity.

But first here are three new stories from The Atlantic Ocean.

The end of control

Isabel Fattal: You write in your article that you have ridden with chopsticks for the past 20 years. Why do you love them so much?

Ian Bogost: The inspiration for the piece was the end of stick-shift production due to electrification. It made me sad on a deep-seated level, and I started to think, Why? If there is a loss, what is the loss?

I looked at a lot of conversations on the internet and elsewhere where people have this feeling about why they ride their stick shift. They go through stages of justification for it. First they try to talk about the practical benefits, which don’t really apply these days. Then you are left with this word: check. “I feel like I have more control.” I feel that for me, and for many stick-shift drivers, it’s a feeling of being connected to a complex, man-made machine you’re interacting with, rather than being subject to the demands you have to accept. That feeling is really rare now when it comes to interacting with almost all types of devices.

A lot of people have real qualms about the relationship we have with cars in America – it’s about masculinity, the taming of distance and expansiveness. But we don’t need those things to be behind the wheel all the time, as it were. I got so many emails; people sent me mail. I think a lot of readers had this same feeling, and they wanted a way not to think the feeling was just about the questionable or bad things about cars.

isabel: Right, missing your gear lever is not just a sign that you…

Jan: A gearbox. And the reactions weren’t gendered in that way at all. But I was already worried about it. Oh my god, I’m going to do a piece on this, really? So it was gratifying to see that feeling echoed.

isabel: You note that when the stick shift dies, we “lose the comfort of knowing there’s still an essential everyday piece of equipment you can actually use.” to feel to operate.” Do you think it is possible that any technology of the future will give us that feeling back?

Jan: I’m really concerned about this. I wrote a piece a few years ago called “Why Nothing Works Anymore”. I wrote about the automatic faucets in public restrooms – where you put your hand out, like, Can I turn on the water? There was a story I told in that piece about going to a restaurant with an old-fashioned aesthetic, and in the restroom there was one of those towel dispensers where you just turn the handle and the towel comes out.

isabel: I sigh with relief when I see it, to be honest.

Jan: Right. you to feel That. They are becoming less common. The direction we seem to be going with everything is that there are more and more layers that are being removed from its workings. One of the reasons I wanted to do the stick shift part was that this felt like the end of something. And I don’t know if we’ll get it back unless we redesign for it.

isabel: You were much less enthusiastic about the topic of your next article, e-bikes. Can you explain in your words why they are ‘a monster made of bicycles and motorcycles’?

Jan: Got this e-bike a while back, and it just felt right to me. I was really excited about all the things that make people want to ride an e-bike: commuting without my car, going outside. But none of the boxes were quite right for me. The piece was about why it felt to me that the e-bike stood between bicycle and motorcycle in this strange no man’s land.

isabel: Why do you think e-bikes haven’t gotten cool?

Jan: I’ve gotten a lot of criticism for this from the bikers, and some of it is in the eye of the beholder. But if you look at the way both bicycles and e-bikes are marketed as ‘cool’, they often do it by looking more like motorcycles. Everyone knows that motorcycles are cool. They have a tradition. I think the reason people love Vespa motor scooters is that they have a cultural tradition; you can imagine getting on one and driving around Rome or something. If you are a cycling person, then bicycles are already cool for you. But we need something outside the coastal cities that are enclaves of city bike advocacy.


Today’s news
  1. Russian officials in various Ukrainian regions occupied in whole or in part by Russia announced that “referendums” will take place later this week. This move, which is illegal under Ukrainian and international law, is likely to foreshadow the annexation of those territories.
  2. The 77th United Nations General Assembly convened today, for the first time in three years, delegates met in full in person.
  3. A federal grand jury sued 47 people charged with pandemic aid fraud. The suspects reportedly stole $250 million by billing the government for fake child hunger programs.


Evening reading
(Kristian Bocsi/Bloomberg/Getty)

The Man Who Could End the Netanyahu Era

By Jeffrey Goldberg

“Let’s talk,” I said, “about Netanyahu’s inevitability factor.”

Yair Lapid looked at me dead tired as he formulated a comeback.

“Would you be so kind,” he said at last with a smile, “to the very clever readers of… The Atlantic Ocean the office where you are raising this issue?”

We were sitting in the office of the Israeli Prime Minister. Not the prime minister’s headquarters in Jerusalem, but a Defense Ministry satellite office in Tel Aviv. Still, a the Prime Minister’s Office.

Read the full article.

More of The Atlantic Ocean

Culture break
Chihiro and No Face are on the mysterious train line in 'Spirited Away'
A still from Spirited Away. (AJ Photos/Alamy)

Read. In her memoirs, The rules do not applywriter Ariel Levy’s prose is direct and often hilarious.

And check out the rest of our list of the best books for a broken heart.

Watch. Spirited Awayon HBO Max, is 20 years old, but revisiting the animated masterpiece is a gift.

Play our daily crossword puzzle.


Inspired by the concept of the “spirit animal,” I asked Ian what his spirit transporter would be. It’s not a gear lever, it’s a sailboat. “I used to race boats in college, and it felt like the purest synthesis of non-motorization and direct control I’ve ever encountered as I moved around the world,” he said. (As far as I’m concerned: does walking count?)

— Isabel