Cars: Freedom or Slavery?

After spending about a week commuting around (in a car) in the Bay Area (East Bay to South Bay traffic), I realized:

Wow — modern society sucks. Why do we need to waste all this time commuting and in a car?

But then this led me down another road of inquiry:

Are cars good or bad for us, society, and notions of freedom/slavery?

For example, a lot of us aspire to buy expensive or fancy cars one day. How much of this notion is a silly “carrot and stick” in modern consumerist/capitalist society? Should we be striving to buying nicer cars?

Furthermore, I really think that driving (in traffic) is one of the worst things you can do for your personal happiness. For myself if I had the option of living in a shittier (and more expensive) home closer to work vs living in a nicer (and cheaper) home further from work, I would choose the former. A long commute is hell. And any money I can spend to make my commute, or time stuck in traffic less is one of the best financial investments you can make.

Cars are convenient— but a possible “net negative”?

Cars certainly make some aspects of our life more convenient, but this is what I discovered after living a year without a car in Berkeley:

I’m happier, healthier, more social, and more physically/mentally fit by NOT owning a car, and taking Uber/public transit/walking instead.

Furthermore, we actually saved a ton of money! No insurance payments, no gas payments, no parking tickets, and by NOT going to Costco and IKEA all the time, we bought less stuff. Even walking to the local Whole Foods and shopping groceries there all the time, we actually saved money! We just bought less food (less spoiled food and waste) and we only bought food on discount or deals.

Hidden upsides

Kyoto urban landscape and bus. 2017
Kyoto urban landscape and bus. 2017

Of course not owning a car makes life a bit less convenient, but there were a lot of hidden upsides to this “creative constraint” or not owning a car. For example, I walked more, and thus shot more photos! And the more photos I shot, the happier I was! And also the more I walked, the more creative ideas came to me.

Taking the bus was great — chatting with the bus driver and making friends with him, being able to people watch people on the bus, shoot bus street photography, and also being able to interact with a different socio-economic group.

Getting rid of your car (I think) can actually improve your life in many ways. Of course we don’t all have an option to get rid of our cars, but this is the simple advice:

If you have the option of NOT owning a car, better to go carless.

No car, more freedom

Sydney, 2016

If you have an option to not own a car, I think your life has more freedom, and more fun. More talking and interacting with strangers, one less thing to worry about (car payments, maintenance, insurance, people breaking into your car and stealing shit, or idiots scratching or bumping into your nice ride).

Perhaps if you’re into sports cars, better to rent a race car for the weekend, and properly race it at a race track. Or better to play Grand Turismo on Play Station or the Oculus Rift VR or something. Certainly a lot cheaper!

Cindy just got a postdoc at Brown, and we are moving over in a few months. For the first year at least, we intend to go carless.

Autonomous driving cars

Personally I’m a big fan of Tesla and self driving technology. If you have the money to afford a self driving car, go for it. Anything to make your life or commute less painful (if you must own a car).


This is my simple conclusion:

If you have the option, opt to go carless. You may probably be happier, healthier, more optimistic, enjoy more company with strangers, and save a ton of money (money you can use towards travel, and investing in your artwork and creative production).

I’m not saying all cars are evil or bad. All I know is being stuck in traffic sucks, driving in traffic sucks, car payments and buying an expensive car is very expensive (I think money spent on experiences will bring us more joy), and for the most part — cars are a bit overrated.

Perhaps let’s take more public transit, walk, and Uber whenever possible. More time to think, read, create, and wonder.