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Now That Travel Can Be Virtual, Will Congestion Virtually Disappear?

UCD-ITS-RP-97-24

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Suggested Citation:
Mokhtarian, Patricia L. (1997) Now That Travel Can Be Virtual, Will Congestion Virtually Disappear?. Scientific American 277 (4), 93

The idea that telecommunications technology could substitute for travel dawned on people soon after the invention of the telephone. In the late 1870s letters and articles speculating on the potential of the telephone to replace face-to-face meetings appeared in various London newspapers. The science fiction of H.G. Wells ("When the Sleeper Wakes," 1899) and E. M. Forster ("The Machine Stops," 1909) described videoconferencing machines (or "kineto-tele-photographs," as Wells put it) that could accomplish the same goal. And an article in a Scientific American supplement from 1914 predicted that telecommunications would reduce transit congestion.

These ideas resurfaced in the 1960s and 1970s, as computing technology began to permeate society and the energy crises of the period prompted efforts to limit the burning of fossil fuels. But today, with fax machines and personal computers ubiquitous and videoconferencing almost mundane, congestion on the roads is worse than ever.