Has America reached a saturation point for driving?

The Infrastructurist sums up some recent arguments that suggest “America has reached a “saturation point for vehicle ownership and travel.”

If this is all true and it ends up being a sustained trend, what does this mean for American culture? From the advent of the mass-market automobile in the 1920s, Americans have spent much time and resources with their vehicles. Getting a driver’s license was a rite of passage, perhaps the main one our culture has for teenagers (though perhaps it is being replaced by going to college for some). Car companies advertise incessantly and tie their products to American values (this recent Dodge Challenger commercial featuring rebel Americans dispersing the British redcoats with their vehicles is quite appropriate here). Fast food restaurants depend on drive-thrus. Could this all change? Perhaps this all depends on whether driving behavior has plateaued or is actually decreasing. If the younger generation doesn’t drive as much, it will take time for them to replace the figures from older Americans who do drive more.

And the other interesting question is whether this is the beginning of the end of suburbs: if new generations don’t want to drive as much, what does this mean for low-density development? Is this really going to lead to a new urban era with a movement to large cities or simply denser suburbs where the amount of driving is reduced but never disappears completely?

WEIRD (Western, education, industrialized, rich, democratic) people may indeed be weird

A new article in Brain and Behavioral Sciences makes a thought-provoking cross-cultural conclusion about WEIRD people:

The article, titled “The weirdest people in the world?”, appears in the current issue of the journal Brain and Behavioral Sciences. Dr. Henrich and co-authors Steven Heine and Ara Norenzayan argue that life-long members of societies that are Western, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic — people who are WEIRD — see the world in ways that are alien from the rest of the human family. The UBC trio have come to the controversial conclusion that, say, the Machiguenga are not psychological outliers among humanity. We are…

WEIRD people, the UBC researchers argue, have unusual ideas of fairness, are more individualistic and less conformist than other people. In many of these respects, Americans are the most “extreme” Westerners, especially young ones. And educated Americans are even more extremely WEIRD than uneducated ones…

One of the consequences of this argument that is pointed out by the authors is that WEIRD people are then a bad population for studies and experiments because the results may not be generalizable.

I wonder how average Westerners and Americans in particular would react after reading this argument. Perhaps it might fit in with some of the ideas regarding “American exceptionalism” – though whether this is good or bad could be debated.
Regardless, if other researchers agree with these conclusions, it suggests that social science studies about humanity need to be expanded across the globe. The era of the undergraduate research subject might then be over.

The lonely American

Research shows that we might be more lonely than ever. Daniel Askt sums up some of the research:

In America today, half of adults are unmarried, and more than a quarter live alone. As Robert Putnam showed in his 2000 book Bowling Alone, civic involvement and private associations were on the wane at the end of the 20th century. Several years later, social scientists made headlines with a survey showing that Americans had a third fewer nonfamily confidants than two decades earlier. A quarter of us had no such confidants at all.

In a separate study, Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, authors of Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives (2009), surveyed more than 3,000 randomly chosen Americans and found they had an average of four “close social contacts” with whom they could discuss important matters or spend free time. But only half of these contacts were solely friends; the rest were a variety of others, including spouses and children.

The rest of the piece is a thought-provoking rumination on friendship, particularly among men.