Barnum, Darwin, and Technology

09friedman-facebookJumboMy mind wanders when I watch TV commercials. I’m annoyed, most often insulted, but rarely enticed. If advertisers base the ballyhoo on their perception of audience intelligence, we must be really stupid or easily swayed. Either way, the lack of sophistication in this country is showing.

I refer to the recent advert that shows some miscreant strolling down the middle of the street, mesmerized by a smart-phone oblivious to his surroundings, forcing people to walk around him, then wandering behind a moving car. Unfortunately, technology intervenes, warning the driver that there is a suicidal moron just behind her.

I say, unfortunately, because of my bicycle-helmet theory. That is that many of our inventions derail nature’s natural selection process by preventing her, mother nature, from removing substandard members of the species from the gene pool. Charles Darwin called this “Natural Selection.” The inventions of many devices like the bicycle helmet allow these inferior examples to procreate, thus passing on these defective
traits dumbing down the entire species. The gene pool is so shallow you can walk across it without wetting your feet.

Warning labels are another inhibitor to natural selection. How smart do you need to be to know that electricity and water don’t mix? Do you need someone to tell you that using an electric curling iron or hairdryer in the bathtub or shower is dangerous? Why not bring in a coffee-maker or microwave oven? Let’s not forget the toaster. My all-time favorite warning was on a package of Christmas lights – “for indoor and outdoor use only.”

We can thank our litigious society for some of these devices and especially for warning labels. Still, the latest aspects of technology are simply the application of developments where they are not needed. Consider the introduction of ‘adaptive cruise control.’ Is this a necessary adaptation of technology or merely the addition of a tech-gadget that was unused. Now you can ignore the traffic in front of you because your car will slow down for you. It will even warn you if you are following at an unsafe distance and wake you if you begin to drift in your lane or stray across the lines. You don’t need to look to either side when you change lanes; your car warns you if there is a vehicle there. There are even warnings to “Take A Break” if you’ve been driving too long. Think about the cornucopia of gadgets that festoon the interior of your automobile. Are they essential? Don’t they add to the myriad of distractions already present? Did we need more?

The penultimate in this march toward oblivion is the autonomous or self-driving car. It would have been a success except for the dumb-fuck pedestrians that walked out in front of them. And yes, their attention was focused on a smart device. Manufacturers abandoned the field-trials of the self-driving-car when it became a legal nightmare. It was a great idea, but you can’t fix stupid the stupid distracted pedestrians!

How smart is a device that distracts our attention and lulls us into complacency, convincing us that is is acceptable to ignore our surroundings? Let’s look back a few millennia to our ancestors living in or near the forests where carelessness and apathy would cost your life if you didn’t notice that wolf-pack or prowling lion, you became dinner. That is natural selection in action.

If the use of these convenience devices causes us to trip or misstep as we walk, how safe is their use while we drive? In 2019 1.6 million accidents are attributed to texting while driving. I imagine that the number is significantly higher because most people denied being distracted by their cellphone use while operating a motor vehicle. 25% of all car crashes in the US involved the use of cell phones. Three hundred ninety thousand injuries annually result from texting while driving. There are eleven thousand injuries every day caused by inattentive walking.

Observe any pedestrian walkway in America. You’ll see what I’m writing about in action. Distracted Walking (DW) is especially prevalent near any college or academic institution. Watch the students as they meander along, attention focused on their cellphones, unaware of their surroundings, and oblivious to the dangers they face — two hundred fifty thousand dollars in college loans and one step from catastrophe. What kind of education are we selling them?

Are we so insecure that we can’t be without these tech-tethers? Are we so afraid we’ll miss an urgent call or message or note? Do we need to be connected continually? Are we that afraid of being alone? The evidence shouts a resounding YES! At one time, not too long ago, time alone was a pursuit. We looked forward to being alone with our thoughts to meditate or think. Our modern world is so full of attractions and distractions that we dare not disconnect. We’re afraid to miss something important. No matter where we are, we remain connected.

If staying connected is paramount as humans, how did we lose our ability to converse face to face? I am always amazed at the number of people sitting across the table, sending text messages, and never saying a word. I wonder why they even went out at all? They could have stayed home alone and sent text messages, and with the advent of smart appliances, they would know if the frozen dinner count was low and when it finishes in the nuker.

I don’t preach against technology. I embrace it. I do believe that it has a place in our lives and that the responsible use of these gadgets is ours alone. I’ve written about that in the past and may add to the titles in the future.

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