Moving Bodies at Speed

Earlier this year, Elon Musk announced he got verbal approval to build an underground Hyperloop between New York and D.C.

Travel is one of those perennial human problems, and over the years we’ve devised increasingly complex solutions to move people and things from one place to another. Bikes, trains, cars, planes, and now roller-coasters inside tunnels. Each new approach lets us travel quicker than before, but also requires more maintenance, safety equipment, and regulations.

In university I was introduced to the writings of Paul Virilio, a French cultural theorist. One of his most known ideas is the integral accident, which is often summarized in this quote:

When you invent the ship, you also invent the shipwreck; when you invent the plane you also invent the plane crash.

It’s a meaty idea that digs into humanity’s infatuation with technology. But when I hear it, all I can ever think is what it means for objects moving at high speeds.

Moving faster inherently creates more risk. Even when the risks are well-controlled (plane rides are statistically safer than driving, right?) they are never gone. A rocket will always have more dangerous potential than a car.

Greater velocity equals greater consequences when things go wrong. There’s no getting around that nature, no matter how many safeguards you implement.

It’s always interesting to see innovative approaches to age old problems. But, in my head, complex solutions never seem quite as appropriate as ways to use simpler ones, like walking, biking, and creating more dense urban spaces.