Has technology improved our lives? This question has been hotly debated as electronic devices and wireless connectivity have invaded basically all aspects of our lives. I mean, seriously, could you even imagine going into the bathroom for a #2 without at least one electronic device? And, again, is it a good thing that your boss can reach you during that once sacrosanct time? The answer to this question is complicated and unclear. A little over 10 years ago, I could go on vacation to my house in Maine and reliably be left alone for a few weeks because the only way to reach me was to call my landline. Then, about 4 years ago, I arrived at my house, got out of the car, looked at my Blackberry, and, presto, I had 3 bars of coverage. Shit!
I Googled the phrase “has technology improved our lives?” The first hit was a link to a USA Today article that posed this question to various people. The first response (presumably from a younger person) was “Yes, because you can call or text your parents if you’re in trouble.” I’m not sure what “in trouble” means in this context, but as a parent of 2 teenagers, I have mixed feelings. If it means “flat tire on the Washington Beltway” then, yeah, it’s very comforting to know that I can be immediately reached. If it means, “high school party busted up by police,” then it’s a little more complicated. Immediate access to mom and dad in that scenario might diminish an important teaching moment (to be clear: the Robertson kids have not made any such calls or texts).
So, I’m sorry, but if you’re looking for a definitive answer to this question, I can’t provide it. But, I can help you with another area of technology, where the answer is obvious to me. Has technology IN MY CAR improved my life? Despite the fact that my reverse camera makes it a lot easier to back into parking spaces without bouncing repeatedly off the curb, the answer is NO! As always, there’s a story….or two.
While we were on vacation in Maine this summer (which is a 1300 mile round trip drive from our house, not counting local driving once we’re there), both my wife’s car and mine gave us warning lights. And, to my greenie friends, yes, we take 2 cars on this jaunt every year now. Blame it on the dog. Once he joined the family, one large SUV just wasn’t big enough, unless we put him on the roof rack and I understand from presidential campaign politics, that is not a good idea.
First, the warning light came on in my wife’s Honda Pilot. It’s great that her car seems to know that something’s wrong with itself. But, its method of communicating its malady reminded me of an infant child screaming bloody murder. You know something’s wrong, but you’re left to guess what is wrong. In the case of the Pilot, it was an orange triangle with an exclamation point in the middle. My wife suggested we look in the owner’s manual to see what that means. Great idea! Indeed the good folks at Honda did put a legend in the owner’s manual to tell us what the various lights mean. It looks like this.
Well, I guess this is good news. At least there’s a fighting chance that we won’t be killed or seriously hurt if we fail to follow instructions, though it is a distinct possibility. Of course, in this case, there are no instructions to follow since we don’t know what the hell is wrong! So we rolled the dice on the remote possibility that we could continue to drive the car and not be killed or seriously injured. Had the light turned to a red triangle with an exclamation point, I’m not quite sure what we would have done. But, the Pilot managed to limp back to Maryland without killing or injuring us.
My Infiniti is newer and, in theory, more technically sophisticated. I got a warning light that said, “check tire pressure.” OK, seems like a pretty easy one, though it would be more instructive if it would tell me which tire (which the Pilot actually does). Since I would have to check the pressure in all 4 tires to figure this out and, importantly, when I kicked them they all felt full enough to me, I ignored this warning for about a week.
On the morning we set off to come home, I figured I better stop at the gas station and check the pressure in all the tires to see which one(s) needed air before I put another 650 miles on them. Naturally, the problem tire was the 4th one I checked, but here’s the part I still don’t get. It was over-inflated. Now, this creates a real conundrum. I can understand how a tire gets low on pressure. It just leaks out somehow. I understand just enough about physics (and farts) to know that gas is likely to move from a zone of higher pressure to one of lower pressure. But, I’m way less clear on how a gas could move from outside the tire to inside the tire to suddenly make it over-inflated. Perhaps this was an act of inverse vandalism. Instead of slashing tires, someone is skulking around our tiny town in Maine in the dark of night with a pump, putting a little extra air into people’s tires. In any case, I let a little air out and the warning light dutifully went silent. I got home and about a week later, it came back on and, sure enough, a different tire was over-inflated. Apparently, this same inverse vandalism is taking place in Maryland as well as Maine.
Now, if the technology were actually worth a damn, it would have (a) told me which tire was problematic, (b) told me it was over-inflated vs. running low on air, and (c) told me how in the hell it’s possible for a tire to suddenly take on additional air. Alternatively, it could have shut the hell up and just let me drive with 38 psi in my right front tire instead of 35 psi. I think it’s very unlikely that this would have KILLED US or caused us to be SERIOUSLY HURT. Any way you slice it, all this advanced technology in our vehicles caused us way more stress than its very limited value.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, my typewriter ribbon is running low and needs to be changed.