Urban motion sickness: Nowadays, everything is electric – e-cars, e-mopeds, e-scooters, e-cigarettes, e-motion. Essay by Matthias Gerschwitz

28. August 2019

Urban motion sickness

Nowadays, everything is electric – e-cars, e-mopeds, e-scooters, e-cigarettes, e-motion. Essay by Matthias Gerschwitz

Illustration: D. Mahnkopf

Illustration: D. Mahnkopf

‘Stay mobile with Mobilat’ was the slogan of a 1990s commercial for an ointment providing relaxation and relief for painful muscles and joints after exercising. This worked because, during the last century, there was a close association between mobility and using one’s body. This association could be observed early on, even before proud parents were heard ecstatically crying ‘Look, James can walk!’, a still common exclamation, and did not end when first took a walk on the moon – the 50th anniversary of which we are celebrating this year.

Nowadays, everything is electric: e-cars, e-mopeds, e-scooters, e-cigarettes, e-motion. Yes, e-motion. The word’s original meaning is being increasingly diluted. Who needs feelings? It’s time for electric mobility to take over! And this is just the beginning. ‘Finally, we have a car that doesn’t belong to us’ is a slogan one can read in U and S-Bahn stations across Berlin between Charlottenburg and Adlershof. I prefer taking that route by bike and treat myself to an excess of endorphins every day on my 45-km commute.

The slogan also reminded of the questionable ‘Geiz ist geil’ (‘stinginess is sexy’) campaign of a large German consumer electronics retailer, who is solely responsible for teaching buyers that the price of a product or service must be lower than its actual worth – a lesson that eroded the livelihoods of electronic mechanics and other smaller businesses everywhere. The recent slogan of a provider of e-cars panders to the same gut instincts. Non-ownership equals non-responsibility. In short: if it’s not mine, why should I take care of it. Proper parking? Treating it with care? Repairing it when broken? Nope. Why should I? It’s not even mine! The motto is: ‘the devil may care.’ This behaviour not only makes a mockery of the original sharing idea but is also turning Berlin into a dumping ground for growing amounts of urban mobility waste.

I remember a time when movement was associated with progress. Think of the women’s movement, the LGBT movement, or the anti-war movement. Movement had a common aim, movement equalled advancement. Now, movement is a mere synonym for mobility and increasingly disconnected from society. Shared cars are most often used by only one person. Segways, scooters, and sharing bikes are per se designed for lone drivers. One can only imagine what will happen when cars start driving themselves! Do they just stand around in a traffic jam? Well, at least they would be able to communicate with each other.

Quo vadis, Gaia? We walked on the moon. We developed rovers, cameras, and spectrometer systems to explore far-away planets. But we are lost when it comes to dealing with our own planet. Climate change is but one of many pressing issues.

Speaking of far-away planets. Mars is no stranger in Adlershof. Even more people are probably aware of the chocolate bar of the same name. Do you remember that old commercial? ‘Recharge on Mars.’ Hilarious! Personally, I preferred the 1975 slogan ‘A Mars a day helps you work, rest and play.’ Wouldn’t that be a great slogan for a sustainability concept? Adlershof has never ducked responsibility for such issues, not for work, rest, or play. Why should this be any different for mobility?

Wherever it is you’re going: I hope it’s going well!

Matthias Gerschwitz is a marketing and communications specialist, writer, and satirist.

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