The Future

Welcome to Mobility

Please stop calling it "mobility"

I love the mixed-mobility conversation that Ford Motor Company is pushing forward in the automotive space. While (like a good Detroiter) I own four cars, this year I rode a bike to work most days. Most days I hop on my bike, ride down the hill and lock it to a post in front of my co-working coffee shop. Honestly, the ride is one of the highlights of my day. When the weather is bad, I need to carry passengers or travel long distance in my grown-up business man clothes, I strap on a car. Mixed mobility. With all of that said, I have a concern with categorizing all forms of transportation generically as “mobility.” And, like most things, I have overthought my reasons why.

Calling cars “mobility” is like calling what we eat “sustenance.” If we were talking about meeting base nutritional needs, “sustenance” would do the job. “I just gotta eat something, it doesn’t matter what.” But, for most in the first world, we do not choose to eat food to sustain our bodies. “Sustenance” is simply a by-product of eating. If it were simply to keep us alive, a nutritionist somewhere would whip up a recipe with all of the essential nutrients, we’d all eat it and reclaim all the time we spend inventing restaurants, grocery shopping and arguing about what we’ll eat next.

The truth is, as Clayton Christensen says, we “hire” things to do a job, and that job isn’t always what it appears on the surface—e.g. “sustenance” or “mobility.” Personally I put a lot of thought into how I hire food. I always hire lunch. I hire it because it breaks my work day in half, allows me to take my mind off the grind and gives me time to reflect on life. I don’t just hire any food, I like healthy, flavorful, preferably ethnic food, set in front of me in a creative atmosphere, by pleasant people. I would save a lot of money if I was simply hiring “sustenance.”

In the same way, while a base human need may be “mobility,” for most first-worlders “mobility” is simply a by-product of why we’re really hiring a car—this goes for the shoes we hire, the bikes we hire, the longboards we hire… everything we hire for transportation. If it we simply wanted mobility, an engineer somewhere would design an inexpensive vehicle that did mobility extremely well and we all would have one, or all would share one.

Why do I care if we paint first-world transportation as “mobility” a base human need? Oh, I got reasons. But that’s for the next post.