HUGH MACKAY, columnist for The Age, has run out of ideas and now seeks inspiration from the dashboard of his car:
Speed. The very word excites us. Faster, faster, faster: it's the mantra of the age, the ultimate goal of an anti-contemplative society, the sine qua non of life in the modern world.
Hugh Mackay. The very name bores us. Duller, duller, duller: it's the mantra of The Age, the ultimate goal of an anti-readable newspaper, the sinking no of life in the modern press.
Who doesn't want to get where they're going as quickly as possible? Why would anyone take the scenic route, adding an hour to the journey, when the expressway promises speedier dispatch? (Question: what are you going to do with that hour you saved?)
(Answer: write an appalling column about speed?)
Fast food, instant coffee, express checkout, quick fix, snap frozen, speed reading, the fast lane ... why are we always in such a hurry? How did "instant gratification" graduate from jokey insult to legitimate motivation? Patience was once a virtue; now, in everything from baking bread to personal relationships, impatience is the order of the day.
Is there any way we can accelerate Mackay's retirement?
"More haste, less speed" once seemed wise advice; now we'll take more haste and more speed, thanks, with a mobile in one hand and a burger in the other.
Mackay should have taken more time with this column. Then maybe it wouldn't be so abysmal.
Pushing your car through a corner, especially on a country road, gives you an adrenaline kick that more cautious drivers never experience.
Yes, but imagine the thrill of driving your car through a corner! It's so much faster than pushing it.
No wonder road safety campaigners have such a tough time convincing us to slow down. "We have got to make speeding as socially unacceptable in this decade as drink-driving became in the last decade," says Harold Scruby, the chairman of the Pedestrian Council of Australia.
Harold Scruby, the chairman and sole member of the Pedestrian Council of Australia.
Road deaths have been drastically reduced over the past 20 years, but there are worrying signs of an upturn in the figures this year, and a widespread conviction among the experts in the field that speed is still the No1 killer.
Or maybe drivers are crashing to avoid some old clown in the overtaking lane who insists on driving below the speed limit.
But how do you encourage drivers, especially young drivers, to slow down, when everything in our culture is telling them to speed up? Fast is good, slow is bad, so slow down? I don't think so.
Perhaps they could listen to tapes of your columns as they drive. It's difficult to speed when you're unconscious.
Scruby's drink-driving analogy is a good one, because we have managed to discourage people from drinking and driving. We did it by intervening directly in the driving environment via the introduction of random breath testing. Suddenly, drink-drivers were at risk not only of having an accident caused by their impaired faculties, but also of being caught driving with too much alcohol in their blood. Gradually, the idea of drink-driving became disgraceful.
As has this column. Can we demand sedative testing for journalists?
We haven't gone far enough, of course: we could introduce technology into cars that made it almost impossible for an inebriated driver to start the engine, but RBT was a huge step in the right direction.
We could also introduce technology that made it impossible to take Hugh Mackay seriously. Oh, wait; I'm using that technology already.
Much more could be done. For instance, why is the speedometer on my car calibrated to 240 kilometres an hour? When I'm travelling at 100, the needle is still less than halfway around the dial, which carries a powerful implicit message of potential. Why do we allow cars to be sold with such seductive speedos?
Mackay is embracing the Taliban's concept of individual responsibility. Why do we allow women to wear such seductive dresses? They present a powerful implicit message of potential. Ban them!
And why aren't cars fitted with a piercing alarm - a bit like a smoke detector – that goes off if the needle reaches some predetermined limit?
Like the one that's screaming in my head right now?
The great paradox of modern motoring is that while road safety authorities try to convince us that, in the words of the current safety slogan, "There's no such thing as safe speeding", car makers and highway engineers seem determined to convince us of the very opposite. Which of them is right?
Whichever one you oppose, Hugh.