February 20, 2008

What About Teleportation?

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There’s nothing quite like the open road. I have lived, for a time, in the Midwest, and I believe that this is especially true in that part of the country. Glaciers came through and flattened everything a long time ago. Now when you’re driving down long, straight stretches of highway, it’s as if the earth is rotating beneath your car as you, hunkered down on the gas pedal, remain motionless. What happened to all that ancient glacial ice? Perhaps it seeped into the soil and has since formed large pockets of subterranean spring water. Perhaps a little deep-water drilling could solve the water crisis in the more Western areas of our country, and Los Angeles could stop stealing everybody’s water. Who knows? Perhaps we will finally discover the secretive mole-people known to lurk deep beneath the Earth’s crust, manufacturing earthquakes and volcanoes and generally wrecking havoc on their less heliophobic cousins.
But getting back to roads. Whatever the Germans may tell you, the automobile is a very American thing. I don’t mean simply the various complicated engines and levers that make the things run — for those, I think we should give credit to those ingenious Bavarians — but the idea for the car and all the wondrous things it has come to mean for us.
When it was first invented, the car was a wondrous alternative to the horse. It allowed for those families who could afford to go on delightful picnics the opportunity to “get out of the city” for a while and adventure into distant and exotic picnicking locations that a horse, constrained as it is by the limits of biological function and stamina, could never hope to reach. This was bad news for horses, of course, as much of the early 20th century’s equine population subsisted on a diet of apple cores and sandwich crusts from the remnants of these picnic excursions.
With the rise of the car came a feeling of independence, the idea that you could go anywhere. This was, of course, if you owned a car and weren’t forced to ride your old stallion Dusty, who was becoming ever more skeletal and less capable for want of sandwich crusts. The independence a car allows for is a great thing. It is comforting that at the drop of a hat you could be chugging away to anywhere the roads led. Oceans are your only limits.
But everybody driving around in his or her individual vehicle might have its downside. How independent can you be, really? Sure, you can drive on any road you want, but that’s only where the government has built roads. I, for one, have often longed to tear ass down the middle of the Grand Canyon or across old Teddy Roosevelt’s head atop Mount Rushmore. But I can’t. There are no roads there. All Terrain Vehicles are a possible solution, but so far the technology has been lacking.
It also seems inefficient to me, driving along the crowded interstates, to have one person per vehicle. As independent as I might think myself to be, there must be a bunch of other folks going where I’m going. These new “car pool” lanes, with the diamonds painted in them, have attempted to remedy the situation, but they are inadequate. Get yourself an even vaguely human-looking mannequin and no cop is going to stop you.
If we could do it all again, I wonder if it might be better to have invested in other sorts of technology. If we’d devoted all our resources into mass-production instead, just imagine the bus and train system we’d have today. Those fancy Japanese rocket trains! Criss-crossing the country, going everywhere the roads do, but faster, because a rocket train will outrace even the best of your mass-produced cars, every time. I know car research has led to many other useful innovations, but maybe rocket-train research would have uncovered them as well.
Or we could have invested in teleportation technology. This might have seemed far-fetched in the early 1900s, but earlier science fiction writers such as Jules Verne —who, incidentally, was one of the first to call attention to the scourge of the mole-people in Journey to the Center of the Earth — could surely have imagined it. Just think: 100 years of teleportation research under our belts! Going anywhere you want in the blink of an eye, just by stepping through a shimmery blue door. That’s true independence.