Slow death by commute

I think work is (mostly) bad for me. A sedentary life style, compounded by being hunched over a laptop all day, working on my carpal tunnel syndrome while basking in the artificial glow of a halogen lamp… but potentially my commute is doing just as much damage to me, if not more.

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Driving in traffic is harrowing for both brain and body. The blood of people who drive in cities is a high-test stew of stress hormones. The worse the traffic, the more your system is flooded with with adrenaline and cortisol, the fight-or-flight juices that, in the short term, get your heart pumping faster, dilate your air passages and help sharpen your alertness, but in the long term can make you ill. It can take as much as an hour to recover the ability to concentrate after a long urban commute. Researchers for Hewlett-Packard convinced volunteers in England to wear electrode caps during their commute and found that whether they were driving or taking the train, peak-hour travelers suffered worse stress than fighter pilots or riot police facing mobs of angry protesters*

*Commuters’ hearts raced at 145 beats per minute, well over double the normal rate. They experienced a surge in cortisol. And, in what was apparently a coping strategy, their brains underwent a bizarre temporary transformation that psychologist David Lewis dubbed ‘commuter amnesia’. Their brains simply shut out stimulus from the outer world, and they forgot about most of the trip as soon as it was over. 

Montgomery, Charles. Happy City. Random Penguin House, 2013

MJ. My biggest concern with my commute was always the ‘Dead-time’. Once I’d remedied that with audio-books and podcasts I thought I could justify this itinerant lifestyle. At least I’m exposing myself to knew ideas I thought… while I’m frying my brain on the way in to work every morning, then caffeinating myself to the point of bare minimum functionality and then frying my brain on the way home again. Five days a week. Totally worth it right?

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‘I’m the man who grabs the sun, riding to Valhalla!’ ‘I live, I die, I live again!’ – Nux. Fury Road.

I am less confident about my life choices these days. :-/

Happy City by Charles Montgomery

Let me start by saying this book is quite niche. And by quite niche, I actually mean, super duper niche.

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I don’t listen to/read Tim Ferriss a lot anymore. Back in the day I used to be a hardcore Ferrissian. Before he became the Gwen Stefani of self improvement. Okay, he’s not quite the anti-christ, so maybe that analogy is unfair. I did however get completely wrapped up in the romance* of the 4-hour work week. Which meant I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to achieve this gimmicky state of work-life-nirvana (time I will NEVER get back) To steal a line from Penn&Teller (well, mostly from Penn because Teller never speaks) its all bullshit. Being in love however, you can’t see the forest for the trees.

*which is the section it should be filed under.

To give credit where credit is due. Tim has introduced me to some really interesting people. A large percentage of them are narcissistic, self-involved, assholes (but then again aren’t we all). But some of them are genuinely interesting. Enter stage right Peter Adeney, aka Mr. Money Mustache, early retiree, blogger and (annoyingly) nice guy.

This book was recommended by Mr. Money Mustache as one of his three best reads. The other two, as far as I can remember were a little generic. But this one piqued my interest.

In my youth I played a ridiculous amount of SimCity. When I wasn’t masturbating frantically I mean. I was obsessed with operational efficiency. To an extent I still am. Although my enthusiasm has waned somewhat on a macro-environmental level. I wanted the spurious citizens of Jo-ville, to be the happiest most efficient little imaginary people EVA! I was their (unelected) philosopher king* who ruled from atop the mountain, removed from his burghers, an un-corruptible, benevolent despot.

* I adore the concepts from Plato’s Republic. I just think they are completely unworkable with homo sapiens.

This book came hot on the heels of Tribe by Sebastian Junger (review linked) which I loved. A lot like Tribe this book tickles my sociological and anthropological interests. Why are our cities the way they are? Why are our societies so messed up? Why do we live in these strange, sprawling residential zones miles from our place of work? Why are we all so angry and unhappy?

The answer is largely, fucken automobiles!

I found it completely fascinating. I think I would even still find it fascinating even if I wasn’t this weird tribal-city-planning fruit-cake/nut-job. Truth be told, looking at the cover (and even paging through this book) I would probably never have read it. I’m super glad I did. Although now I feel I have secret insider knowledge that no one else has, but that is largely theoretical and superfluous. Not exactly a hot-topic when you’re grouped together with the other dads at a two-year-olds birthday party.

‘have you ever considered how urban sprawl is affecting our happiness coefficient?’

versus

‘how ’bout them Mets?. (bewildered, betrayed*)

*from The Birdcage. I might be paraphrasing. I haven’t watched it in a while. Also it should be mentioned that when it comes to the Subway series my blood is dark blue and domiciles near 161st street.

I started out by saying this book is a very niche field. But I think everyone should consider the way we live and not just take these sorts of things for granted.