What's with all the quiet?
On The Beatles, horse-drawn carriages, and the side effects of the electrification of everything
Joni Mitchell famously admonished that you don't know what you've got until it's gone, but it's also entirely true that once something is gone, it's hard for those who never knew it to imagine what life was like when it was still around. That's often fortunate, too: Nobody living with paved roads and modern sanitary sewers knows what it's like to walk through streets dodging horse manure and suffering with the chronic stench of waste.
■ Pressure continues building to drive the free advanced countries away from internal combustion. Much of that pressure has come from climate concerns, though increasingly, it also comes from political concerns about dependence on unreliable and even hostile counterparts for the necessary fossil fuel supplies.
■ The electrification of almost everything is well underway. From electric vehicles (now with a 5% market share in the US and 17% in Europe) to robotic battery-powered lawn mowers to even the emergence of electric air taxis, it's becoming evident that engines may be on their way out.
■ This presents an interesting little slice-of-life change that may well go unnoticed by today's children as they grow up. Combustion engines are noisy things, and they're all around us. We are so used to their noises that some electric vehicles have artificial noise added. Pause to consider how many overlapping engine noises are heard in a residential area: Airplanes flying overhead, motorcycles and cars rolling down the street, the two-cycle engines on leaf blowers and string trimmers being ramped up and down by homeowners.
■ It's not unrealistic to imagine that those noises are largely on the way out. Things will still make noise in an electrified future, of course -- but quite possibly, they'll make a lot less of it. And nobody will really remember much about them, because they aren't going to stop with a grand flourish. They're being turned off slowly and quietly, like a pop song that fades out.
■ And like ""Hey Jude", that fade-out may last almost as long as the main theme. But it is already underway, and it might be hard to explain what's missing someday to those who never knew when it started.