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Why Your Car Isn’t Electric

From the New York Times comes this article about household innovation, particularly focused on the electric car.  The article highlights how the best engineers have to think about how social forces will affect the way people use technology in the future.

The path to successful innovations is more complicated if it depends upon societal change. For example, the technology to recycle glass bottles, metal and paper existed in 1960, when Americans recycled 6.4 percent of their trash. In 2010, we recycled 34 percent of our trash. That change wasn’t caused by improvements in technology. Instead it was about public perception of a problem and access to the solution. We created an ethos of recycling, beginning with anti-littering campaigns in the 1960s and ’70s, and later, curbside recycling programs gave people a way to easily express that ethos.

You can change the technology. You can change the infrastructure and culture. And sometimes, you have to change both, easing people into accepting a new tool by making it look and feel like the old one you want to replace. It’s this, Kirsch says, that will enable electric cars to finally succeed. The trick is to not expect people to jump straight from all-gasoline to all-electric. What’s necessary is a transitional step that makes electric cars operate more like the cars we’re used to driving.

via the The New York Times