Friday, December 14, 2007

Why Cupholders Make You Safe

Malcolm Gladwell writes really smart interesting articles and books and I recently found his treasure trove of stuff here:

My favorite piece, Big and Bad: How the S.U.V. ran over automotive safety, contains this gem:
Over the past decade, a number of major automakers in America have relied on the services of a French-born cultural anthropologist, G. Clotaire Rapaille, whose speciality is getting beyond the rational—what he calls "cortex"—impressions of consumers and tapping into their deeper, "reptilian" responses. And what Rapaille concluded from countless, intensive sessions with car buyers was that when S.U.V. buyers thought about safety they were thinking about something that reached into their deepest unconscious. "The No. 1 feeling is that everything surrounding you should be round and soft, and should give," Rapaille told me. "There should be air bags everywhere. Then there's this notion that you need to be up high. That's a contradiction, because the people who buy these S.U.V.s know at the cortex level that if you are high there is more chance of a rollover. But at the reptilian level they think that if I am bigger and taller I'm safer. You feel secure because you are higher and dominate and look down. That you can look down is psychologically a very powerful notion. And what was the key element of safety when you were a child? It was that your mother fed you, and there was warm liquid. That's why cupholders are absolutely crucial for safety. If there is a car that has no cupholder, it is not safe. If I can put my coffee there, if I can have my food, if everything is round, if it's soft, and if I'm high, then I feel safe. It's amazing that intelligent, educated women will look at a car and the first thing they will look at is how many cupholders it has. "
Damn, I better make sure I keep a latte on my bike at all times. For safety, of course.


Unknown said...

Sounds to me like the perfect argument for a tall bike.

Todd Temres said...

That is what I am (we are) really up against, THE SAFEST THING TO EVER KILL EVERYONE. It's a tough argument, to say the least.

Anonymous said...

Seems like at least part hokum. The reason that people like tall cars is that they can see over other cars--and be seen better as well. True, some may be drawn to them at first due for psycohological/ego reasons, but the practical reasons should not be overlooked.

I also think that people figure that big, heavy vehicles will likely protect the driver/passenger better than smaller, lighter vehicles. I don't suppose this is always true but it kinda makes sense on its face.

As for rollover, people overestimate their own abilities and think, "Oh, I am a most excellent driver and will avert any disaster that befalls me." False, of course. I read somewhere (paraphrasing) that 93% percent of all people think they have an above average IQ.

As for cup holders, people spend lots of time in their cars. They want every creature comfort in them. They are basically rolling living rooms.

Lastly, I think the real question is, "what personal sacrifices are people willing to make for the betterment of the society at large?" It's hard to argue that people don't need SUVs on a case-by-case basis, but it is easy to argue that whatever benefits they bring to individuals, they take away in spades from the "collective we." Are we as individuals willing to sacrifice some of our own safety and comfort for the collective we? Appertly, the answer is NO!

Sorry for the ramble-rant but I just felt like unloading. Take care and stay safe.

Anonymous said...

People who drive suvs have the minds of reptiles?
Gee Kent, there's a bulletin!
Good blog, read it all the time.

Anonymous said...

Just make sure you tape the lid down on your latte. Spilling coffee into your shoe when the lid pops off your latte is an experience.

SeattleM&M said...

I'm with Perry -- Gladwell's conclusions are entertaining, and satisfyingly imply that SUV drivers have undue mommy attachment. But, this isn't quite science -- or even science's distant relative, social science.

Wonder what it would mean if I only felt safe with a cigar smoldering in the ash tray? Not that there's anything wrong with that...

Kent Peterson said...

I'd encourage folks to read the whole article, not just the entertaining excerpt I posted on my blog. The real meat of the piece is the safety stats.

To me the main point of the piece, in fact the main thrust of much of Gladwell's writing, is that people do lots of interesting things, for lots of interesting reasons and often those reasons aren't what they think they are.

Anonymous said...

Folks might want to google "G. Clotaire Rapaille" for some context.

However you might disagree with Rapaille's analysis is beside the point, if actual stuff is being designed, built and marketed in certain ways as a result of that analysis.

If he's saying, "Bigger, more cocoon-like vehicles will sell better!" and car manufacturers are listening to him, then that's what we're going to meet on the road. It doesn't matter if he's full of it.

nollij said...

I regularly take coffee on my bicycle: it's awesome to ride and drink coffee at the same time, and I feel right at home amongst all the SUV's, though I do get a lot of looks when I'm riding and drinking coffee. I learned about the benefits of coffee on a bike a while back from I put my coffee mug (a Nissan Thermos JMW-500) in one of my water bottle holders. Of course, I ride an Dutch City bike, so I'm well suited to match (at least in posture) the SUV driving street dwellers that infest Marin County, CA. Big wheeled steel dutch bikes make great replacements for SUV's! I did like Sean's endorsement of the argument for a tall bike: that should garner some respect! I know I respect the hell out of anyone who can mount one, as my several inebriated attempts earned me a lots of deep bleeding wounds and no success in riding a tall bike.

Tai-po said...

What the heck am I doing getting lights and reflective gear when all I needed to make myself safer on the road was one of these???

I would extrapolate that the extra sense of false security some SUV drivers have is also the source of their sense of invincibility.

"I can't get hurt driving like a complete moron, but you sure can and that's fine."

Sadly, none of this is actually about SUV''s about the foolish things people can do when they have the means to get away with it.

"Guns don't kill people...husbands who come home early kill people." - Larry the Cable Guy


Anonymous said...

Then why doesn't having a cup holder on my handlebar make me feel safe?

Great piece, excellent link. Thanks, Kent!

Anonymous said...

oh c'mon kent, you know the reason you want a cup holder on your bike is to impress all the ladies.

thanks for the link to gladwell's site! i didn't know he webbed.


Toddman said...

Reading your post made me think of this article, which is along similar lines.

twodeadpoets said...

Reading this makes me wish I had gotten a different bike. Do they make one called the **ARMADA** or how about the **EXPEDITION**?