Friday, September 06, 2002

The costs we impose on other people

"No snowflake feels responsible for the blizzard." I hadn't thought about that saying for a while. Then I read a story by John Seabrook in the 9/2/02 New Yorker about "traffic engineers" and found this paragraph:

"Most drivers see traffic jams as an impediment to their own progress; few think that their presence in the jam is an impediment to everyone else. But the true cost of a traffic jam is not only the time you are delayed; it's the accumulated time that your vehicle adds to everyone else's delay, because everyone else must travel the additional length of your vehicle to get to the barbecue. As Wolfgang Sachs, a German environmental scientist, points out in his book "For the Love of the Automobile," "Once a certain traffic density is surpassed, every driver contributes involuntarily to the slowing of traffic. The time that the individual driver steals from all the others by slowing them down is greater many times over than the time he or she might have hoped to gain by taking the car."

So if this is true for traffic, maybe it's true for other things. When you're trying to accomplish something, of course you think about what costs and risks you're willing to bear for success. You seldom consider the costs and risks you might be imposing on other people, who may have no interest at all in your success. Maybe it's worth thinking about.


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