Take teenagers 20 years ago and ask them would they rather have a car or a computer? And the answer would have been 100% of the time they’d rather have a car, because a car represents freedom, right? Today, ask kids if they’d rather have a smartphone or a car if they had to pick and 100% would say smartphones. Because smartphones represent freedom. There’s a huge social behavior reorientation that’s already happening. —Marc Andreessen, Fortune interview
What would you rather have — you get to pick only one — a driver’s license or a mobile phone? I’d take my phone without a second thought. It has an app to call a car (Uber), directions (Google), and public transportation maps and schedules for every major city (Embark). And the data is clear — the driver’s license is losing (i.e., ownership is steadily decreasing).
From an economic standpoint, the cost difference is dramatic. I just switched to T-mobile, which gives me unlimited voice and data for $70 a month (including internationally). That’s $840 a year in operating expense and maybe, if I bought the phone with no package, $500 in capital costs. Spread the phone cost over three years and call it $1,000 a year.
Compare that to a car: the average consumer spends $1,500 a year on gas alone. Plus, it’s a capital investment of tens of thousands of dollars. The all-in driving costs are probably close to $5,000 a year for most people, especially if you factor in the depreciation in the value of the car.
When I got my driver’s license, it was a big deal. There was no Internet (Marc Andreessen was working on Mosaic in Champaign, but it had yet to be launched), and mobile phones were by no means ubiquitous. The car thus was a form of freedom. Today, though, your friends, the news, and just about all other services are all available on your phone. As the graph from the Atlantic shows, there has been a fundamental shift regarding the number of people with driver’s licenses. With this shift, we as a society are driving far fewer miles and thus using less energy and importing less fuel. It’s amazing, the consequences of that little device in your pocket — the mobile phone has shifted consumer demand and literally affected the trade balance of the US (along with higher fuel efficiency standards).
The future is one of automated drivers and shared cars. It makes economic sense, it will be more efficient, and it will be safer. I never learned how to ride a horse growing up, and I’m guessing many kids in the near future will never learn to drive a car. And I for one cannot wait for the day that I can hop into a driverless car to head off to work. Looks like comedians will soon have to ditch all their jokes about the DMV (they were getting stale anyway).