Modern technology and innovation companies are driving the world’s transportation systems down the wrong road, says local writer, blogger and tech critic Paris Marx.
Marx has written a book about it, and it’s sparking a lot of interest.
“Road to Nowhere: What Silicon Valley Gets Wrong about the Future of Transportation” will be launched at the Benevolent Irish Society, 30 Harvey Rd. in St. John’s, Friday evening, July 15.
The book, he says, exposes the flaws in the technology industry’s vision of the future and offers a more collective way of organizing transportation systems that consider the needs of poor, marginalized and vulnerable people in society.
“I think some of the core pieces of the book are really meant to have people think more critically about the ways we think about transportation and transportation systems,” said Marx, who is originally from the Burin Peninsula but now lives in Paradise. “First of all, over the past decade or so, we have had a number of promises of how new technologies were going to improve the transportation system. What has actually happened is that it has made traffic worse, it is taking people away from transit systems and putting more cars on the road.
“We do have a lot of serious problems with the transportation system, including car-dependence, and how many people have to own a car to get around, and there’s not really many other options for people. And that comes with a really high financial cost for people, especially at a time when the cost of living is high and a lot of people are feeling really pinched with their budgets. So, needing to have alternatives is really important.
“Also we do face a climate crisis and we need to address that, and transportation is a big contributor to climate change. Is the response to that just to promote electric vehicles and people switching from internal combustion engines to battery power? Or should we think more fundamentally about making it possible for people to not own a car at all and be able to get around reliably with alternatives?”
Marx says his interest in technology started when he was young, but writing about it and transportation developed over time.
He said he attended Memorial University, did some travelling to different countries, and then did a master’s degree at McGill University in Montreal.
“My master’s was in urban geography and it really focused on transportation and the tech industry and how the tech industry was seeing the future of transportation, and whether that was actually going to address the issues we have with our transport system to make it more equitable and more accessible for people,” he said.
Marx is also no stranger to writing.
He’s been freelance writing since 2015-16 on issues related to cities, transportation, technology and climate change, and has been published in national and international media.
He also started a podcast in 2020 called, “Tech Won’t Save Us.”
“The book is based on a lot of the writing I’ve done over the past six or seven years, and the research I did in my master’s degree. It’s kind of taking those things and reframing them for a more general audience rather than an academic audience,” he said. “So the book pulls a lot from history, from people like Peter Norton, who wrote ‘Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City,’ and people like Fred Turner, who did a great history of the tech industry in the United States, and Margaret O’Mara, who has written on that topic, and also a lot of critical work that has been done over the past decade on the proposals for the future of transportation from the tech industry.
“I also pulled from people like Ursula K. Le Guin, an American science fiction novelist, just to provide other perspectives on technology and transportation and society to try to get people to think differently about the ways our society can be constructed, the ways we can think about technology.”
The book launch is sponsored by Downtown Comics and Verso Books and will run from 7:30-8:30 p.m., during which Marx will do a reading, take questions and sign books.