As with Facebook, resistance to e-scooters is futile
If I might amend a familiar definition of insanity — that is, doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result — to something more tailored to our current state of affairs, it would be this: falling violently off an electric scooter at near-full speed, then continuing to use the contraption on a regular basis.
In that case, I might be crazy. Or maybe the brave new world of tech, with all its attendant risks (read: crashing onto the pavement, surrendering our privacy), is so irresistible, it’s now inescapable.
The City Council seems to think so. This week, council used a so-called soft touch — an evolution from how it once dealt roughly with ride-sharing services — in adopting a six-month pilot program regulating dockless vehicles: the companies that own them and the people who use them.
That would include me, despite my tumble.
To make an embarrassing story short, I had booked a hotel room near the University of Texas at Austin last month for the Texas Tribune Festival, an annual confab of political junkies, when I realized the event had moved from its usual location near the university to the downtown area.
“No problem,” I thought. “I’ll zip back and forth on a Lime,” a green permutation of those infernal e-scooters that materialized this year in metropolises across the country.
My strategy worked all weekend — until I took a shortcut through a gas station at 18 mph, failed to notice a dip in the ground and found myself no longer zooming through space but separated from my e-scooter and sprawling toward terra firma. I survived with just a few scrapes, but the experience was so jarring that I immediately swore off e-scooters for the rest of eternity.
A week and a half later, I was back on one, cruising conveniently from the newsroom to the Bexar County Courthouse to save time.
I was on deadline. You can’t expect me to walk when I’m on deadline, can you? Answer: Of course you can. Before e-scooters appeared out of nowhere, I was content to walk a mile from the newsroom to the courthouse and back, even on deadline.
Now that e-scooters are ubiquitous, though, why should I?
That’s the genius of savvy tech startups. The most successful — think Facebook — fill a need you never knew you had, then make forgoing them nearly unthinkable.
As a journalist, why should I go to the trouble of tracking down a source’s phone number when everyone and (literally) their mother is now on Facebook, and I could just reach them online? The social network has embedded itself into our daily lives now to such an extent that it feels like basic infrastructure.
The risks are obvious. On Friday, Facebook acknowledged that an attack on its computer systems exposed the personal information of 30 million users, the biggest breach in the network’s 14-year history.
Of course, even in the absence of hacks, privacy on the social network is an illusion. As John Lancaster wrote last year in the London Review of Books, Facebook is actually in the “surveillance” business: “What Facebook does is watch you, and then use what it knows about you and your behavior to sell ads.”
We know this, yet we remain on Facebook — much as my injuries hadn’t quite healed as I cruised to the courthouse on another e-scooter. Insanity?
Is there such a thing as mitigated insanity?
To limit my exposure on Facebook, not to mention try to dodge bots and trolls, I deleted the app from my smartphone. This has significantly reduced my time spent on the social network — to the point where I’m barely a presence there, taking advantage mostly of its connectivity from my desktop.
In other words, I use Facebook and try not to let it use me.
Likewise, every time I step onto an e-scooter, I’m aware of the risk that I might crash and hurt myself — or worse. I could mitigate the risk, though, by wearing a helmet or, God forbid, not take shortcuts through gas stations at breakneck speed.
Council made it clear this week it won’t force me to do any of these things. After the uproar that erupted from an over-regulation of ride-sharing services, our leaders likely realize that resistance is futile, especially when new technologies offer sorely needed solutions. (Council did ban e-scooters from streets where the speed limit exceeds 35 mph: a no-brainer.)
As tech digs its digital claws into the future— giving us freedoms even as it takes our privacy, creating new vulnerabilities alongside new solutions — the best defense might be to accept the insanity with a level head.
Marty Lind crosses Commerce Street downtown on an electric scooter July 1. City Council on Thursday approved a six-month pilot program regulating the electric vehicles.