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Can cars pay attention to planets?

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We all know that the world was transformed, through and through, by the invention of the assembly car. The very core of the global industrial economy was vitalised, and subsequent political decisions around these cars have invigorated or eviscerated our communities. On the converse, the cars did take many of our direct connections on the street away, with fewer face-to-face conversations and community cohesiveness - together with our ability to focus, especially when the phones appeared.

However, a lot of us need them, and deep down we know why -- for psychological health. Some of us yearn for them, more than we need transportation in any form, more than we need the internet.

Car psychology has defined our world cultures, especially for less-enfranchised people. They are a rite of passage, an empowering rubber stamp from society as you are affirmed, most often in your teenage years, as responsible, reliable and safe. So many of us, especially in the countryside, need cars to get any physical connection with literally anybody. Inside our cars, with the door shut, sometimes, we give ourselves permission to sing, to shout, to cry, even try to dance. We might even talk to ourselves, maybe to focus our chaotic thoughts and plans for the day. This occurs in peace, or with our favourite music and talk. In the car, the societal requirements of civility, politeness or "small talk" just melt away. We allow ourselves to release our internal natural anger and frustration, perhaps sourced from other personal misunderstandings, at other road users without them hearing. The humblest person is king in their own car.

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For some of us, it comes down to this: we are emulating our ancient ancestors. We are hunting.

Hunting the maze of our local environment, our chaotic cities, and knowing how we best do it, for yourself, as well as our family and friends. Even hunting how to use the least emissions possible when driving, in some cases. How many of us are proud that we know rat routes to get around traffic? How many of us think we know better than the government about our local traffic rules? We don't for everyone: but we do for us. And for those close to us.

We feel, perhaps for the only time of our 'usual' days, in total control. We have control and command over a chaotic, confusing, yet sometimes oddly hilarious life, without distractions, with a purpose, and societal permission to be ourselves, alone if we must, on the move.

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It's very real. Some of us are hunting, giving us necessary alone time to analyse, and think about literal or metaphorical goals and destinations, which develop inner safety and security. People develop new ideas and new connections whilst driving, often addressing their own personal circumstances - which all to often attempt to address the pervasive modern epidemic of loneliness. Loneliness clusters in confusing emotions, that we're not educated about, and we don't have societal permission to have, including inexplicable fear, grief, anger and frustration. With a car, we may have an immediate goal and a destination - or we may not. If we need more time to think, we can drive to the countryside. Some of us don't have much else, and the emotional attachment to petrol cars is profound and crosses disparate walks of life. So, I have a radical proposal to help with pollution.

The proposal is: life realistic, real-time, five-dimensional, law- and road-rules based, virtual-reality cars. We can make them in all the loved models we've grown accustomed to. They need to have all the necessary psychological senses that bring us hope and familiarity -- sight, touch, taste, smell and hearing, especially of our beautiful classic automobiles. These can now surely avoid the uncanny valley, so we can suspend our disbelief that we're driving, to where we want to go, and allow people to hunt the joy from the chaos in their safe capsulised environment, like we've been trained to do across our lifetimes. Perhaps we could even travel to other cities in real time and see them from the "car" -- perhaps even cities from the past? People love driving so much, you could even "drive" to get your online bicycle-food delivery from your favourite "restaurant" keeping the locals in business.

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Peter is a medical registrar in Melbourne, Australia, with experience and interests in Infectious Diseases and Addiction Medicine. He is currently completing a Masters of Science (Infectious Diseases) at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical (more...)

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