What Roads Were Before Cars

5 Intriguing Things is a curated collection of links that help us think about the future. Subscribe to the daily newsletter.

1. How cars and car operators colonized our roads

"Roads were seen as a public space, which all citizens had an equal right to, even children at play. 'Common law tended to pin responsibility on the person operating the heavier or more dangerous vehicle,' says Norton, 'so there was a bias in favor of the pedestrian.' Since people on foot ruled the road, collisions weren’t a major issue: Streetcars and horse-drawn carriages yielded right of way to pedestrians and slowed to a human pace. The fastest traffic went around 10 to 12 miles per hour, and few vehicles even had the capacity to reach higher speeds."


2. The next version of Apple's iOS will let you see battery usage per app.

"Tim Cook and other Apple executives gave us a fast-paced, broad-ranging look at some of the features we can expect with iOS 8, including improvements to Messages, keyboard enhancements in the form of QuickType and access to third-party keyboards, HealthKit, Extensibility, and more. Along with the features that were demoed on stage, an iOS 8 graphic displayed some additional functions that went largely under the radar, many of which look quite interesting. For example, iOS 8 will apparently display battery usage by app, a handy feature that will let users monitor the battery drain of specific apps, shutting down those that are drawing too much power."

+ To me, poor battery life and breakability remain the two biggest problems with our devices. 


3. Some predictions from the National Intelligence Council about what the world could look like in 2030. For example:

"Autonomous vehicles could spawn a new era of industrialization in mining and agriculture, addressing heightened demand from developing economies. Self-driving cars could begin to address the worsening congestion in urban areas, reduce roadway accidents and improve individuals’ productivity (by allowing drivers the freedom to work through their commutes). Mass-transit innovations will likely emerge from the fastest-growing urban areas of Asia. Nevertheless, more disruption could result from terrorists’ use of civilian UAVs as platforms to deliver explosives or unconventional weapons."


4. Giant concrete arrows mark a logistics era past

"In the 1920s, America began coast-to-coast Airmail service, but the pioneer pilots had trouble navigating the route, since navigation charts of the day were fugazi and you couldn't exactly pull over to ask a farmer for directions. And traveling at night, when it would have been most efficient, or in bad weather was impossible. To solve this Congress then funded these gi-normous arrow-shaped Airmail Beacons, some up to 70 feet long, to trace a route across the country."


5. An Instagram for soundscapes

"This is why I’m encouraging someone to build a product as simple as Instagram for our field recordings. Right now social media feels too explicit — this is my opinion, my face looks like this, let me check in to this place and find me as these coordinates. We need space to share more inchoate things. I want to listen to conversations out of context you overheard at a coffee shop. I want to hear thunder from someplace miles and miles away. If there’s a leaky pipe in your basement, I want to hear it. Really, I do. I could listen to all my friends’ tiny sound files on a loop all day."

+ Maybe Audioboo?


Today's 1957 American English Usage Tip

bourgeois. Originally, one of the 'burghers' of the shopkeeping middle class; among socialists, anyone with private property interests. Often loosely & over-used. As the name of a printing type, in which sense the word is English, it is pronounced berjois. 


Subscribe to 5 Intriguing Things

Hear Thunder from Someplace

Jump to comments
Presented by

Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Is Technology Making Us Better Storytellers?

How have stories changed in the age of social media? The minds behind House of Cards, This American Life, and The Moth discuss.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus


Is Technology Making Us Better Storytellers?

The minds behind House of Cards and The Moth weigh in.


A Short Film That Skewers Hollywood

A studio executive concocts an animated blockbuster. Who cares about the story?


In Online Dating, Everyone's a Little Bit Racist

The co-founder of OKCupid shares findings from his analysis of millions of users' data.


What Is a Sandwich?

We're overthinking sandwiches, so you don't have to.


Let's Talk About Not Smoking

Why does smoking maintain its allure? James Hamblin seeks the wisdom of a cool person.



More in Technology

Just In