Manual Carjacked: The Culture of the Automobile and Its Effect on Our Lives

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Replete with the ironic and irrational aspects of owning and driving cars, it partakes of car psychology to deliver its message about the statistical costs of four-wheeled freedom. Emphasizing the attachment of values such as personal independence to car ownership, not to mention self-image and status, Lutz and Fernandez cheerily saunter through automobile advertising and movies to show how mass media exploit people's desire to buy cars.

Is there a sager, saner way to live with the car and have the mobility we need?

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No mere 'anti-car' manifesto, Carjacked is an anthropological study of what the authors refer to as the "car system," of which the automakers are merely one element They have assembled a fascinating and disturbing portrait of something we accept as normal -- indeed essential -- but which has, in many ways, betrayed much of its original promise. Their main conclusion is for Americans to examine how they use their cars as opposed to how they think they use them. In other words, to strip away the romantic fancies fed by memories, folklore and advertisers, and face the reality of the best way to get from A to B.

Such a reality check up, they argue, could result in a more rational approach to driving with people using cars less and walking or bicycling or taking buses or trains more. Catherine Lutz is the Thomas J. Watson, Jr.

Carjacked: The Culture of the Automobile and Its Effect on Our Lives

As an author and editor, Professor Lutz has published nine books. Anne Lutz Fernandez is a former marketer and investment banker with fifteen years of corporate experience. She is an English teacher in Westport, Connecticut. Catherine Lutz at Brown University.


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Our Privacy Notice has been updated to explain how we use cookies, which you accept by continuing to use this website. But that first gut response — it's almost some kind of latent memory from the advertising messages. And I also think for older folks from our memory banks, from when it was more fun to drive, when it was easier to get around, when it was less crowded and there was less traffic.

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TH: And also I think from our teenage years, when that was the only way you were going to get out of the house, and it gave you a sense of independence because you were alone in your own space that was under your control, and it got you places you couldn't go otherwise. LUTZ: Yes. We did a focus group with teens that were about to get their license or had just received their license, and we also interviewed the parents of those kids.

And it was clear that the parents were all reliving their own experience as children. So I think that we remember that time very vividly when we think about and talk about the car. The idea of driving taps very deeply into that personal nostalgia. When we asked people, "Why do you think we drive as much as we do as Americans? I have no choice but to drive as much as I do, because of the way the country is laid out. Nor had we, until we really looked at the data and talked to people about their real driving.

Because the first response that people would give to the question, "Why do you drive so much? Where else do you go?

The national data suggest that we're taking many, many discretionary trips. That we're not trip-chaining, we're not putting kids on the bus anymore, we're taking extra trips to go driving, etc. We came across this very interesting study by this woman named Nancy McGuckin where she coined the term "The Starbucks Effect" that looked just at how many additional trips had been created by the whole coffee shop phenomenon.

She studied six-year period where a million and a half extra trips were created just to get a cup of coffee or a snack or a small meal.

Carjacked: The Culture of the Automobile and Its Effect on Our Lives by Catherine Lutz

So people are driving more than they need to, and some of it is the built environment but some of it is consumer culture and the choices that folks are making. But a lot of it is also habit. Were just used to having the car. There's the convenience of having the car, but often it's habit, that you can just hop in and go. And it's an unthinking way of being. TH: I feel like the entertainment factor is also a part of it. LUTZ: Yes, absolutely. In particularly the talk radio phenomenon was a direct outgrowth of people spending so much time in the car.

A lot of the entertainment — the mp3 players in the back seats for kids, the DVD players, the satellite radio, all of those entertainment devices loaded up to keep us busy on our commute — obviously it's a cyclical thing. Because now it is comfortable, right? In particular if you've paid for some nice heated leather seats, and you're sitting in this comfortable environment.

Catherine Lutz -- Carjacked: The Culture of the Automobile and its Effect on Our Lives

People say, "I need these things because my drive is so long. TH: Transit planners often bemoan that fact, that they have to try to approximate the comfort of the car in order to attract people. LUTZ: Well one of the things we point out in the book is just how expensive cars have become because of all of these added luxuries. And a lot of Americans have gotten themselves into hot water spending too much on cars. You would think that cars would be getting cheaper, but they're not because we're loading them up with all these accessories and options.

This recent bubble was not just a housing bubble, it was a car bubble as well. We're hopeful that one silver lining to this recession is that Americans are finally looking at their household budgets and realizing that they've overcommitted their family's financial futures to our vehicles.

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