Am I Driving My Car, or Is It Driving Me?

This post is more or less a Luddite’s rant about new technology. So here goes. 🙂 I was forced to get a new car when my old one tragically passed away in an accident this past June. I’ve always been nervous about driving a new car or someone else’s car because… what if I crash it? What if I can’t adjust the seat properly? Am I responsible enough to have a brand new car? Why are you trusting me to drive your car? My name isn’t on your insurance! (And so on and so forth.)

Anyway, I got a Chevrolet Cruze and the best things about it are that it (a) gets really good gas mileage, (2) is my favorite color, and (3) has an antenna that reminds me of a fish’s fin. The worst thing about it is that it’s more or less a computer on wheels, and even the base model (which I have) has a ton of unnecessary features. The car has its own WiFi, an “infotainment” system, power windows (my old car had manual roll-up windows, which I liked because it was old-school), a backup camera, Bluetooth (so you can connect your cell phone to your car and make calls or look up stuff on YouTube), a USB port instead of a CD player (so now I have to rip all of my gazillion CDs onto a flash drive… *sigh*), and an automatic stop feature that supposedly saves gas. (When you press the brake, the car shuts off. It’s really weird.) The car would have had SiriusXM radio, but I opted out of it.

The car also came with a three-month trial of OnStar, which I let expire. Less than a day after the expiration date, a sales representative called me up to convince me to re-enroll in the service. Apparently, if you ever get in an accident, the car will automatically use OnStar to call emergency services. The sales representative made it seem like I would get in a horrendous accident and no one would be around to help me if I didn’t have OnStar. Well, that might be true if I was driving in the middle of nowhere or in the middle of the night when nobody’s around, but that doesn’t often happen. I wondered what people did before the onset of all this new technology. I thought about my old car, which had hardly any technological features. After I got in the accident back in June, the emergency services all showed up immediately. No OnStar needed. The only thing OnStar is really good for is the navigation system, but again… what did people do before GPS? I think it was called a map, and I think it was printed on something called paper.

Now about that “infotainment” system… I find it hilarious that as soon as you turn the radio on, a pop-up message appears on the screen and tells you that pop-up messages might distract you while you’re driving. That’s one of the dangers of connecting your phone to your car via BlueTooth: text messages from your phone appear on your car’s screen and absolutely could be a distraction while driving. So I resisted connecting my phone to my car, mostly because I don’t like talking on the phone while driving anyway. Some cars (I think mostly minivans) even have little TVs in the backs of the seats, which are meant to entertain children but really end up distracting the people who are driving behind the vehicle with the built-in TVs. When I was a kid, I listened to books on tape when I was in the car. Or I brought a stuffed animal (or five million Beanie Babies). Maybe those simple things aren’t good enough for kids these days.

There is also a creepy vibe behind the technology. When I had the free trial of OnStar, the car would send me a diagnostics report every month that told me how good a driver I had been. Somehow it calculated my driving score by keeping records of how hard I pressed the brakes, how quickly I accelerated, and what times of the day I drove. I sometimes wonder if the car had secretly recorded all the times when I started to sing out loud (and off-key) to my favorite songs or ranted about the other crazy drivers all around me. So I live in fear that if I ever commit a crime, the car might be able to go to court and testify against me. However, that’s not to totally reject all the computerized features. I like when the car tells me it needs an oil change, one of the tires needs air, or how many miles it can go before it needs gas again. The backup camera is also extremely useful, especially for me because I hate backing out of spaces. (I think they are making the backup camera a mandatory feature on all cars sometime in the near future.)

The dilemma with all this new technology is this: Do you allow it into your life for safety’s sake and the sheer convenience, or do you shut it out of your life to maintain your privacy and focus? The whole thing makes me think of a science fiction novel in which cars come to life and take over the world (sort of like Christine or Transformers but much more sinister), which gave me an awesome idea for a future NaNoWriMo story, but that’s a separate post.

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Is this a friendly face, or an evil grin that’s plotting mischief? Only the auto makers know… or do they?

Too Much Entertainment

Once upon a time, I was in ninth grade and there were two things I liked more than almost anything (besides reading): music and video games (namely PokĂ©mon and Unreal Tournament). So when I came home from a rough day of being a freshman in high school, I would blow off steam by sitting in front of the family computer (that is, if the seat wasn’t already occupied by my brother) and destroying pixelated soldiers in Unreal Tournament.

One day I had the brilliant idea to enhance my killing sprees by listening to music while playing the game. So I was merrily running along in a fictional militaristic world, flak cannon in virtual hand, blasting enemies into freshets of imaginary blood while listening to Bon Jovi. Pure nerdy bliss. My blood pressure was low, my ears were filled with the sounds of the game and the music, and then my mom looked over at me and said, “Maggie, that’s too much.” (Or something like that. At the time, I was angry at having my joy interrupted and didn’t bother to remember her exact words.)

That was back in 2002, before everyone on God’s green earth had a cell phone, before social media really took off, before mp3 players and iPads and Kindles, and before video games looked so realistic that you couldn’t tell the difference between animation and a live-action movie. I feel sorry for teenagers today, who have three or four times as many modes of entertainment and thus three or four times as many distractions. It’s not just too much. It’s way too much.

I help with my church’s youth group, and this past Sunday’s session was about how we are consumed by technology, social media, materialism, and other modern-day distractions. The teenagers were given a slip of paper on which they were asked to estimate the number of hours per day they spent on social media, browsing the Internet, texting, and so forth. The findings weren’t shocking to me or any of the adults present, especially because a few of the teenagers were tied to their phones during the night. Even so, we hoped the exercise made them realize that there was a lot of unnecessary “noise” in their lives and that the noise can prevent them from being able to sit in silence, to meditate, and to pray.

We taught the teenagers that there is a simple solution to escaping from all the “noise,” and that is spending time before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, AKA Eucharistic Adoration. Just a few minutes of silence and/or prayer per day can put things back in perspective and stop the noise long enough to help one remember that the world and all its distractions will pass away, and all the “entertainment” we have can never fill the gap in our souls that yearns for God.

Cell Phone Rant

To quote the Katy Perry song: “I just wanna throw my phone away / Find out who is really there for me.”

If I were to rewrite the song, it’d go something like this: “I just wanna throw my phone away / Instead of getting a new battery.”

These days, my phone can barely hold a charge, so it has to be tethered to its charger at all times with the WiFi and the data turned off. Why not get a new battery? Because honestly, I can’t be bothered. I want to exchange my phone for an old-fashioned flip phone, or at least one that has the little slide-out keyboard so I can text faster than one character a minute.

A few months ago, I made the horrible mistake of syncing my work email to my cell phone, so whenever I have a spare second or if I’m not thinking of anything in particular, I check my work email when I’m not at work. This can lead to much vexation, groaning, and workaholism, as I find myself thinking of work when I really ought to unplug. Easy solution: The problem could be solved simply by deleting my company’s email app from my phone. Counter-argument: What about emergencies? (At least that’s the excuse I make.)

I try to keep the number of apps on my phone to an absolute minimum, so the battery doesn’t drain any faster and so I don’t become one of those zombies who texts behind the wheel and walks around in public with her eyes glued to her phone. (Or one of those awkward millennials who’s sitting in a room full of live human beings but staring at the glowing screen in her lap.) It’s irritating when you’ve just cleared your notifications, then five seconds later, you get another one and the light on your phone begins an incessant, annoying blinking. That’s the point at which I put my phone face down on my desk and ignore it. Ain’t nobody got time for all those notifications.

What’s your worst pet peeve about your cell phone?