I was 15 years old when my mother declared our wretched Toyota 4Runner a superfluous expense and that we could get along just fine without it. I admit to being initially horrorstruck at the prospect of spending my teenage years not only without my own vehicle but without any independent means of automotive transportation. Living in the small city of Bemidji, Minn., I was able to enjoy some of the harshest winter weather the state has to offer. Instead of the iconic sensation of getting a car for my 16th birthday, I’d be walking to my party feeling none the sweeter. It was wondrous then that a surprisingly small amount of time was needed for me to adapt to this adjusted lifestyle. My preliminary embarrassment of being “dependent” on public transportation, cycling and my friends eventually gave way to a new sensation:
This may not seem to make a lot of sense, as cars are usually equated to personal freedom. The automobile has been a pillar of the American dream; since World War II it has been exalted as a symbol of status, a practical necessity for anyone with a family or a job. The automobile industry has helped shape our economy and shift the average standard of American life. It also doesn’t seem too long ago that youth culture depended on cars as their own symbol. Teens and young adults thrive on independence, self-expression and defiance, and having a car surely did help facilitate those
Like most traditional roles or standards, however, the symbol that the automobile embodies is no longer the same. In fact, cars are becoming less popular in terms of ownership, distribution and
My sense of freedom regarding not owning a car is most directly attributed to a freedom from debt. I know that if I even tried to buy and drive a car, I’d need to be making about $5,000 more a year. It isn’t too hard to believe that new car sales among 18- to 34-year-olds have dropped 30 percent in the last five years, simply because the economic toil from our country’s latest recession hasn’t permitted anything else. Most of us can’t afford it. It’s important to note that although the selling of new cars has decreased significantly, used cars are becoming more popular for families struggling financially. The recession can’t take all the blame though; in the last 25 years there has been a substantial decline of young people getting their driver’s license as well.
Our dependency on vehicles seems to be waning; for urbanites, walking, biking and public transportation have proven many times over to be a cheaper and more effective mode of passage. The institution of the car-sharing service Zipcar has made it possible for those who want to drive and not own a vehicle. For the younger population, connectivity doesn’t involve cars like it used to. We are now able to shop, entertain ourselves and associate with each other online. Maybe cars just don’t seem as cool as they once were. We’ve become a “tech culture,” where many would rather invest in an iPhone than in an old beater. Our technological gadgets have somewhat filled that sensational and emotionally charged gap in teen’s lives that cars used to occupy.
Will coupes, minivans and sedans soon become outmoded? I doubt it, although I do believe that in order for the car to succeed in contemporary culture, it will have to provide something other than a simple movement from point
A to B.
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