Traffic Book Summary - Traffic Book explained in key points
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Traffic summary

Tom Vanderbilt

Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us)

4.2 (17 ratings)
12 mins

What is Traffic about?

In Traffic (2008), Tom Vanderbilt explores the chaos and order of our driving experiences. From the psychology of traffic jams to the paradoxes of driving safety, these blinks will reveal one aspect of the eternal battle between the limits of human nature and the technology that sets us free.

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    summarized in 6 key ideas

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    Key idea 1 of 6

    Traffic (usually) brings out the worst in us.

    How did you react the last time someone cut you off at an intersection? Did your usual, calm self transform into a psychotic demon, pounding the horn and shouting obscenities out the window?

    It happens to the best of us. These emotional outbursts happen because human nature is not made to be trapped inside the small, mobile, metal boxes we call cars. Humans are fundamentally communicative beings, but the enclosed and separated spaces of automobiles prevent us from expressing ourselves properly. So when something bothers us, we become frustrated and aggressive instead of communicating about it.

    But the modern technology of cars can’t stop human nature, and we’ll try anything to get our message across – no matter how absurd.

    For example, one study examined how drivers respond to being honked at. Over 75 percent responded verbally, even though they were separated by steel and glass!

    And drivers often try to send messages that won’t improve the situation whatsoever. Like when a driver dangerously overtakes another car, and we try to show them how wrong they are by doing exactly the same thing to them. Or when we give someone the finger for honking at us, which only makes them angrier.

    But all this anger has a deeper meaning: we use it to maintain our lost human identity.

    When we step into a car, our sense of self is transformed into the anonymous metal box we are driving. In a sense, we become less human, and more machine. In this cyborg state, when someone cuts off our vehicle body, we feel like a part of ourselves has been cut off, too. So in a vain attempt to protect our identity, we rage at the other cyborgs on the road.

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    About the Author

    Tom Vanderbilt is a journalist, writer and blogger who contributes regularly to publications like The Wall Street Journal, Slate and the London Review of Books. He is also the author of Survival City: Adventures Among the Ruins of Atomic America and The Sneaker Book.

    Who should read Traffic?

    • Drivers who want to be safer on the road and move faster in traffic
    • Anyone interested in psychology

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