In the 1800’s, horse-drawn trolleys were one of the main forms of public transport in Brooklyn, New York. This changed in 1892 when electricity was introduced to the system. The new electric trolley lines could travel at around 15 miles per hour, three times faster than a typical horse-drawn trolley. Once again, technology was improving the quality of lives and efficiency of people in the modern era.
Except it came at a great cost: safety. Electricity and automobiles were still very new concepts to the majority of people of this era. People of the late 19th century were not used to the idea of fast vehicles racing down the roads, so they would not routinely check both sides before crossing a road – something that every child nowadays knows to do. Therefore, many unsuspecting pedestrians were caught off guard and struck down by a trolley.
Furthermore, traffic lines were chaotic, time schedules were incredibly tight forcing drivers to be more reckless, and electrocution from broken wires were not uncommon. The injury and death tolls climbed rapidly as more and more electric trolleys were introduced. Within the first three years of the electric trolleys becoming operational, more than a 100 people had been killed and 400 people injured by these trolleys.
After years of public backlash, system reforms and regulations, trolleys became safer. Cultural shifts with people becoming used to the idea of checking for dangers before crossing the road also helped reduce the death toll. Trolley dodging became a routine part of modern, metropolitan life.
The history of trolley dodging is a great reminder of how new technology changes our lives. Technology promises easier, more efficient lives, but they can be so paradigm-shifting that people may not know how to use them “well”. It can take years before the culture shifts to accommodate for it, leading to numerous growing pains” for the society while they become used to the change.
A good example is social media. Although it promises greater global connectivity and rapid information sharing, it has also caused significant issues. Social media results in addictive, toxic behaviours due to its attention-grabbing, infinite scrolling nature. It can cause awkward social dynamics as we have no clear etiquettes and rules regarding how we interact with each other on the internet. Despite it having the potential to greatly improve the quality of our lives, currently social media is often causing more harm than good because we have not had the time to learn what the best way to utilise it is.
Much like the residents of Brooklyn in the 1890’s, we need to learn how to utilise this exciting but potentially dangerous technology wisely, or risk being run over by it.