Technology just might be dulling my skills
(and it might be dulling yours as well)


I was visiting my parents about a week ago. This led to that led to me backing up their car, and some strange observations…

Did you know the backup cameras on a car can offer a video of geese in flight? Honestly, I didn’t either until that was exactly what I was watching on the dashboard of the car. (And, you might need a bit more information.)

I had been running some errands, and my parents let me use their car. Got back to the house, and after running a few things inside, I decided to move the items that would be going with us later between the trunks and back their car up to ours. Having to move a grand total of about fifteen feet along the driveway, I left the trunk open.

Easy people… it’s a trunk open while backing up in a driveway, not sending an 8-year-old down a ramp on bicycle without a helmet. What it did mean was that the camera wasn’t in the normal positioning, lining things up when the car was in reverse. It was instead about 90 to 110-degrees higher, showing the top edge of our car and then up and off into the sky. (Cue passing geese.)

Amazing thing about certain products. Pretty much all the time, it’s hard to be critical of them when they fail to do what they’re not expected to do. As a silly, first example, when you return home from the grocery store and spot a loose nail on one of the steps in the garage, the loaf of bread or one of the eggs are not to blame if you use them to pound it back into place and fail.

Along a similar pathway (but totally different tracks), it turns out that we need to use products properly and in general within certain operating scenarios. The simple summary here would be that a backup camera works best when pointed along the route to be travelled.

Problem though… I think we might be taking technology and such for granted. We’re a bit spoiled and a bit naïve and over time becoming ignorant to it all. We’re not even noticing it’s happening, with misplaced frustrations when something goes wrong.

When I was a kid, it was amazingly annoying to grab our family’s address book any time I wanted to call a grandparent or friend. So, I memorized the numbers. Today, if you took my cell phone away from me, it would mean chaos. I guess I could still call my parents. I know that number. But, I’m not sure I know where Terry and I keep our address book. And even if I’m right and it is in that drawer, I have no clue if any phone numbers are written down. (Then I don’t know which ones have changed. Geez, this is a potential nightmare. Fortunately, there are never any problems with my being able to use my cell phone or get information from it. That’s a relief.)

When I was in college, I could drive from driveway to dormitory without looking at a sheet of paper or a map for reminders. I knew when rest areas were nearing and which exits to use. Today, take away my GPS and I would need hours of research to get the right directions for the homes of several family members.

Let’s try something a bit less technical though. How about locking a car?

I know someone that was driven absolutely batty when her kids got their hands on her car keys for a few minutes. Some combination of buttons was pressed, and the acknowledgement-beep sound was disabled. You know the sound… press the lock button, head lights flash, car gives a quick beep. (Admit it, some people you know… possibly even you… also use that beep as a car locater in crowded parking lots when the parking space has been forgotten. Back to that friend with the kids…) So, the lights would flash, but the car wouldn’t beep. She was trained by years of action-reaction to click the button while walking away and let the beep tell her the car was locked. She had no clue how to turn it back on.

Another person I know often leaves his car unlocked. Not intentionally. He has one of those nifty in-the-vicinity BluFi WiTooth thingamajigs. Far more often than he is comfortable admitting, by the time he finishes his routine of grabbing his briefcase and the coffee he had momentarily put on the roof, he ends up locking and then unlocking his car before he turns to leave.

There are other fun things we could joke about, or offer some wise observations from experience, but the reality is simple enough. I come from a day where, in my youth, you had two keys for the car. Now, people have been trained to look for signals that the door is locked other than using the handle.

I’m not trying to make fun of cars or technology or even us. Instead, I’m just trying to point out how numb we’ve become to things.

One person I know got into someone else’s car after a few years of driving his with a backup camera. The car he was sitting in didn’t have one. (It was mine that didn’t have the camera, so yeah, I know this was the result…)

He put it in reverse, looked at the dashboard, and waited for an image to come to life. He paused for a moment, no image appeared, and he turned to me and said: “How do I see what’s behind me?”

(Well geez… I don’t know… the mirrors? Maybe shuffle in your seat to turn a bit and look out the windows?)

It’s not about the safety of the scenario. For specifics, I certainly understand why these cameras are so awesome, how they help, and agree that they’re a great feature. I love my GPS and traffic apps. Instead, I’m just wondering how we’ve reached a point where any ability level for reading a map is less common than reading/writing/speaking Latin.

We investigate items that distract us… and eating, cell phones, drinking coffee, radios, DVD players and more all provide some levels of distraction while driving. But then we miss how we’ve become almost Pavlovian in our behaviors to virtually anything, to the point where we almost can’t function in any way when a specific option or stimulus is removed.

Strange days indeed. (Wait for the beep.)


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