On the Pennsylvania turnpike, I see a woman riding on a motorcycle behind her husband. She passes through mountains and never looks up from the Kindle in her hands. I am intrigued by this woman. I’d like to keep watching, but…”Dad, I have to go.”
My husband pulls in at the next rest stop and we lose her.
The restrooms along the turnpike are entirely automated. So automated, in fact, I find I cannot rest here at all: I’m afraid the toilet will flush unexpectedly and at an inopportune time. The amount of soap I receive is pre-programmed, released when a sensor detects my cupped hand. The water shuts off after a certain amount of time has lapsed. When I wave my hand before yet another sensor, a pre-determined length of paper towel emerges from the machine. And I can get an automatic shot of hand sanitizer as I exit the bathroom.
I see that the new debit cards have sensors embedded in them too so that purchasers no longer have to go through that grueling time-killing process of swiping a card and entering a four digit number. Now, with a mere wave of the card in the general vicinity of the card reader, the transaction will go through with ease.
I suppose all this automation is designed to save money and energy, maybe even time, but I find it annoying: Am I not to be trusted to judge the amount of water and soap I need? Can I not decide for myself the amount of paper towel to pull from the roll?
I sense that we’re “sensoring” ourselves to death. By blinding allowing machines to dole out what we need, we remove ourselves from the need to think.
Outside the rest stop, a woman with a tiny dog sitting in her lap pulls up to the building so that her husband can get into the car without having to walk to the parking lot. A trash can overflows with plastic bottles and wrappers. Among the trash on the ground is an empty gallon bottle of Bug Off windshield cleaner. A man picks up a pair of sunglasses from the hut outside the turnpike building and looks into the sun. We pile into the car.
“Everybody in?” My husband starts the car and checks the oil life and air pressure in each tire by hitting a button on the steering wheel.
I used to be impressed by buttons and gizmos and gadgets. I thought they were a sign of luxury and technological wonder. But my mother-in-law has always turned up her nose at fancy appliances with lots of buttons. “Too many things to break on them.”
Perhaps she’s right: Too many buttons, too much automation, too much technology, breaks our connection with our minds. While we could use automation to free us to think about Important Things, instead, I fear we use technology to free our brains—and our bodies—to turn to mush.
We catch up with the woman with the Kindle and I see she’s opened up a lunch bag and as she rides down the turnpike on the back of a motorcycle, she eats and she reads.
And I can’t figure out how I feel about all that.
Labels: Automation, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Technology, Traveling