NPF: I DROVE. THE CAR. INTO A F*^#ING LAKE

Posted in No Politics Friday on June 4th, 2015 by Ed

It has been a few years since I took a lengthy road trip, enough that this is my first one undertaken with GPS to tell me where to go. In the past I made do, somehow, with a road atlas and enough patience to get lost on occasion without worrying too much.

GPS is one of those things that makes life so much easier that we don't even notice (or mind) that it's making us dumber. Don't get me wrong, I would never recommend against using it. I am curious, though, to see what would happen if you handed a teenager who has never lived without "navigation" a map. Or hell, try the same with an adult who has been taking orders from the disembodied voice of gentle authority for more than a decade now. Cue the mental image of Michael Scott driving a car into a lake because the GPS voice told him to keep going. Is that the route (SWIDT?) we're headed?

In Nicholas Carr's The Glass Cage (recommended, if a bit dry) he talks about GPS as an example of how automation makes our lives better but imposes a strange sense of detachment on our actions in many cases. This week I am putting his claims to the test, and he's not wrong. Without having to worry about where I'm going the amount of involvement in the process of driving falls sharply. It's great – I reach my destinations and I can devote my attention to things (audiobooks) other than finding the correct route. But at the end of the day, it's remarkable how little I can recall: what highways I drove on, what towns I passed through, and so on. Without even trying I've tapped into the Autopilot mode, paying only enough attention to hear the voice tell me to turn right in 1/4 mile.

It's tempting to engage the Who Cares argument here; paper maps are archaic. Why bother learning a skill that cheap, widely available technology can do faster and better. I'm not about to start a Hipster Luddite No Navigation Movement that encourages people to revert to street maps (and, on longer trips, a sextant) to find their way. It is just one of the more interesting examples of the mixed blessing of labor-saving technology. Finding our way is one less thing for us to think about now, for better and worse.

SLIGHTLY OVERSTATED

Posted in Quick Hits on June 4th, 2015 by Ed

Stopped to visit the Brown v Board of Education historical site in Topeka yesterday. The exhibits included a number of contemporary predictions about what would happen if the Court desegregated the schools. Suffice it to say many atrocities would befall Our Women and society as we know it would collapse. They predicted the same things reactionaries always predict at the slightest potential for change. You've heard them all. And I found myself wondering, How many times have we been promised these outcomes? Have the predictions ever come true?

Are there any examples of apocalyptic predictions – the kind that accompany issues like gay marriage, desegregation, etc. – that were anything less than wild exaggerations? Any example we can point to of the Pat Robertsons of the world warning us of dire consequences that kind of, sort of came to pass? The jury's still out on the whole "Repealing DADT will reduce the military to one furious gay orgy" prediction – Just give it a few years, it'll happen – but on others the record is complete. Neither gay marriage nor female suffrage led to the predicted collapse of civilization, after all. But maybe something else that I'm forgetting did.