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What’s more liberating: Your iPhone or your car?

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An image of San Francisco through the windshield of a car.

spieri_sf / Flickr

‘How silly of these young twerps,’ harrumph the older generations. ‘Don’t they know the car enables freedom, travel, friends, dating, and (cough), even….teen-age sex?’

I have news: It’s we older folks who don’t get it. Armed with the capabilities of their ever-more sophisticated iThings, replete with social networking enabling close, immediate exchange of thoughts and experiences with countless ‘friends,’ who needs to actually get in a car and go to a drive-in?

Generation Y Going Nowhere, And They’re Fine With That -Bob Lutz – Forbes

That’s an excerpt from a recent piece in Forbes by former GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz. In it, he goes on to predict that “In 100 years, [travel] may be almost entirely redundant, as we sit in our rooms, chatting, every participant except one’s self a highly realistic hologram.”

Maybe I’m one of those “older generations” he’s talking about (I’m 28), but I feel like it’s insane that someone would value a smartphone over a car. For me, the relationship between my phone and my car is that the former is a condenser of stuff that would otherwise clutter up the latter: It’s my map, CD changer, owner’s manual, flashlight, insurance card and occasionally my co-pilot when I can’t figure out where I want to go.

Even once I take my phone out of the car — and I use my phone a lot — it’s a thing I use to do the things I want; it’s not the thing that I want to do.

If push came to shove and I had to decide between the two… I mean, it’d be the car, duh, right? In fact, even the thought of that sounds freeing: driving along some winding road in the hills; no phone, no distractions, just the freedom to go wherever you want. (By the way, I drive a Toyota Camry, so it’s not as if my position here has anything to do with some romanticized idea of driving.)

I see Bob Lutz’s point and I actually completely believe in his vision of the future, but I’ve always viewed the internet and social networks, and the technologies that enable them, as idea machines. If no one gets up and turns those ideas into actions, they just sit there.

Really, though, I’m interested — which would you prefer?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • http://alexonassignment.wordpress.com/ Alex

    I think you have to keep in mind this was written by a man who lives in big cities. In New York, a car is more of a hassle than helpful. If public transportation was that amazing everywhere—-I’m sure most people would chose the phone over the car!

  • http://www.paulbalcerak.com/ paulbalcerak

    That’s a very good point. I’m in Seattle and… well let’s just say that nine times out of 10, I feel like it’s easier to drive.

  • Zooms63

    The car is the oracle to freedom. From my first car, a VW, to my current well appointed Volvo, the car was a way to escape. To enjoy life, meditate while driving no where, enjoying the scenery, and to explore things beyond what we’ve seen. That’s always been a joy. I have my phone, I enjoy it and often waste time playing on it. I mostly put up with it because of it’s convenience when needed, but many times, I see them as an annoyance in life. Personal conversations are rarely fluid anymore as a text, call or message pops up on the phone. College students who once spent time between classes talking to random people in the ‘quad’ or hanging out with friends is uncommon these days. As soon as the students hit the door, their phones are in their hands, and the texting or calling begins. Part of this great thing we enjoy, yet fail to appreciate, LIFE, is spending it with others.  It seems many people these days get to know each other via text message.  You really want to get someone? Go on a road trip with them. Maybe society isn’t equipped for the level of interpersonal knowledge anymore. But, the self importance that many seem to think is involved with constant contact with the world is effacing at best. 

  • http://www.paulbalcerak.com/ paulbalcerak

    Great comment, and thanks for stopping by to leave it here.

    I like that you mentioned driving as a form of meditation. Some of my most relaxed, clear-headed moments are when I’m in my car, alone, just driving. Usually I’m going somewhere, but I’ve occasionally zoned out, taken a wrong turn or three and not really cared about it. There’s something about the tactile experience of driving — hands to the wheel, feet on the pedals — that’s unlike anything else people really do anymore.

    The great irony, of course, is that all these iThings and social networks are ostensibly built to make it easier for people to connect, but they’ve arguably done the exact opposite. But the other irony, I think, is that cars have sort of worked out that way, too. I wasn’t around in the old west, but if I were, I imagine that if someone cut in front of my horse with his horse, I’d say something like, “Whoa there, buddy,” and he’d say, “‘Scuse me, partner,” and we’d tip our hats and carry on with our lives. When that same incident happens with two cars out on the highway…not so much (The Oatmeal has illustrated this point beautifully).

    That said, I still like my car better than my phone.

  • Zooms63

     Yes, the smart phones, do make life easier to connect.  But, on what level.  It’s an arm length contact, not face to face, and often doesn’t contain the same level of information in communication (e.g., inflection, facial expressions, affect, etc) It has made simple communications more easily accomplished.  Apparently, that has come at a cost.  A great cost!  A rushed, never ending responsibility to everyone in our world to keep in contact at all times.  What Henry David Thoreau wrote 150 years ago, “Simplify, Simplify, Simplify” is just as poignant today as it was then. In fact, even more so.  Imagine how simple life must have been back then with no car, phones, televisions, etc.  Yet, he saw this ‘industrialization’ of people’s mind occurring at the same time of our culture’s rapid and expansive industrialization.  (read: demise)   The fact is, almost all technology has taken away from our interactions with others.  Women rarely swap recipes and sit around and chat in the mornings while their husband is off at work. Both adults are working. Kids don’t play kick ball in the evenings anymore, they play video games.  The technology we love to squander is a beautiful thing, but like all things, must be kept in balance.  Balance seems unfathomable to most, yet something most will say they want it in their lives.  Even with my personal goal to maintain interactions on a personal level with people (My baristas know my name, my life, and I know theirs.) it is still difficult at times.  Yesterday, I saw a young couple walk out of an electronics store.  Both immediately ripped open the packaging, and the lady took the box (size of a shoe box) and just tossed it into the bushes. I had to catch myself before the smart ass, twitter worthy comment came out of my mouth.  Yes, it influences my life!   But, I caught myself and rolled down the window and mellowed my  response to a politely vocalized statement…”ma’am, I’m sorry but that won’t just evaporate, there’s a trash can only a few steps away, would you help us keep our city clean?”  She snapped back like a cornered animal and said “Oh, I was going to pick it up.”  — Right, that’s why you threw it into the bushes.  Admittedly, if I hadn’t been mindful of my statements, it probably would have turned into a mutual verbal assault.  I can go there, just choose not to when able to catch myself, as it’s more effective.  All of life’s technology and growth is a great thing.  It’s the extent that we let it take over our lives that makes a difference. 

    After the recent ‘Cafe Racer’ shootings and then the carjacking, shooting downtown.  A witness ran to the dying woman’s side and told her that she was there with her and the woman knew she wasn’t alone in her final moments.   No APP will ever replace that kind of compassion or concern for our fellow co-inhabitants (although, I’m sure someone will try to develop and sell one. LOL).  When I heard that, despite the sad and tragic moment, it made my heart smile.  This was a witness that truly gets it.  No one wants to die alone.  Many are going through life alone now as there are too many distractions competing for our time to work at developing and maintaining  relationships.  With all technology, including the car which allowed us to visit family and friends at a much greater distance, we must accept them into our lives and understand their time and place.  Not let them take away from our lives.  The car, phones, computers, cell phones, GPS systems, etc are a great part of life and our generations, however, maintaining that balance now is just as important in our lives as it’s ever been throughout history.  When the supposed, ‘discovery of fire’ occurred, I’m sure there were many cave men and women who sat around and watched in amazement.  Thank goodness they were able to pull themselves away from it long enough to maintain their place in our evolution.  Something that I do draw into question in today’s society. 

  • Zooms63

     by the way, even the “Slacker’s”  Church of the Sub Genius, which is quite amusing, covers the topic of ‘fecal meditation,’ and discusses using that daily ritual as a time to meditate and reflect.  Mindfulness is everywhere that you choose to embrace it. 

  • http://twitter.com/Jeffrey_Funk Jeff Funk

    But doesn’t it also depend on where your car is taking you?  Hope you are well Paul.

  • http://www.paulbalcerak.com/ paulbalcerak

     Thanks for this; this is probably one of the most well-thought-out comments ever left on my blog.

    Per the part regarding the Café Racer shootings, I think there’s a certain default that most people will always revert to in times of crisis or tragedy (just yesterday I read a story about a 19-year-old kid who was shot in the Aurora attack while saving a young mother and her two kids) but I think you’re also right that there’s a degree to which people don’t want to get involved. In psychology, they call it the Bystander Effect. I remember one time when my wife and I were down in U-Village and we saw a woman lying on the sidewalk on a hot day. People were just walking past her and literally stepping over her, so at first, we were doing to a double-take over whether she was just being weird. Ultimately, it turned out she had suffered some sort of heatstroke or other medical condition, and it’s a good thing we checked on her, because we were able to call an ambulance and get her some help.

    I’m sure that scene could have played out in almost any era — people have been not helping each other for a long time — but looking back, it makes me wonder how many of those people who just walked around her were on phones, or iPods or otherwise absorbed in their own shit. We live in a world where everything is customized and personalized, and where the general consensus is that you should “treat every moment like it’s your last,” which somehow gets translated to “do what you’d want to do if you knew you were going to be dead in two seconds.” I feel like a lot of people live for themselves, and my feeling is that, by living for each other, people will find their lives a lot more fulfilling. The few minutes I spent with my wife helping that random woman (her name was Brenda) were more fulfilling than any of the things I’ve managed to purchase or fill some of my time with.

    One last thought: None of the technology we’re talking about existed 10 years ago. The acceleration has been so rapid and changed us so much that I have to figure there will be some kind of breaking point — an equal and opposite reaction. I don’t know what that is, and maybe it’s happened already, but the world doesn’t change that fast without some kind of counter-revolution.

    Thanks again for the comments.

  • http://www.paulbalcerak.com/ paulbalcerak

     +1. That is all :)

  • http://www.paulbalcerak.com/ paulbalcerak

    Not necessarily, and that’s kind of my point. Part of what technology has done is to blur the lines between our personal and professional lives (raise your hand if you get work emails on your cell phone, or if work contacts tweet to your personal Twitter account), which in turn has made it so that more of our time is spent executing, taking action and otherwise getting stuff done.

    That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it means we spend more time actively thinking and working. There was a time not too long ago when people spent vast portions of their days just thinking/daydreaming. In less than 100 years, we’ve almost completely lost that. For me, one of the times when I can just let go and allow my brain to travel wherever it wants is when I’m driving. During those times, no, it doesn’t matter where I’m going, and like I told @15b8fb6dd46ffe13f470846cab2d415d:disqus , “I’ve occasionally zoned out, taken a wrong turn or three and not really cared about it.”

  • Zooms63

     ” There was a time not too long ago when people spent vast portions of their days just thinking/daydreaming.”

    Pause for a moment and think about that.  Those people used to be called “Philosohphers.”  Now they’re called “Lazy.”

    Most people are uncomfortable being alone with themselves.  If they aren’t doing something, they have to turn on the television.  Sitting quietly, and stilling the mind is most uncomfortable for many. Something outside of ourselves must constantly occupy our minds or it literally causes panic in some people. 

    Driving in ‘mental automatic’ is one of those few times that seems acceptable or even possible in our world today. 

  • Zooms63

    The most we can hope for is 1 minute of realization before our final breath.  Car accidents and other things may prevent that. But, if we get that final moment of remembrance,we have only those few seconds to flash through our lives. Wouldn’t those moments being filled with regrets be the equivalent of hell?  My goal is to create the memories now that I wish to cherish in those final moments.  Sure, there have been regrets in life, if anyone denies that, they’re delusional. However, filling our lives with beauty and memories that make their mark in our minds and hearts is paramount. One day, perhaps while driving where you don’t have to pay attention to someone slamming on brakes in front of you, practice this.  Think about the things that have really created your life and who you are. Don’t dwell on them, just try to list them and a brief memory of each.  If we run out after ‘birth of a child’ or ‘marriage’ then it’s time to live with diligence and fill that void, now, the only moment we truly know. 

  • Zooms63

    Forgotten before hitting post on last message….

    “general consensus is that you should “treat every moment like it’s your last”

    That is the general notion that is passed around like the salt shaker at a family dinner.  The notion leaves our mind as soon as the saying is out of our mouths, just like the salt shaker is out of our hand after we pass it.

    How many people can say or even more importantly, show through their actions that they live in that manner?  Very few.  Saying it doesn’t make it so.  Action does. 

  • Zooms63

    What was your first car, do  you have a ‘beater,’ a ‘getter’ or a dream car now and how does that influence your desire to feel the freedom of the road.  The times in life that I’ve had a ‘beater’ or one that would ‘get’ me back and forth, the road wasn’t so free. Now that I have a car that meets all my expectations, the road trip is the joy and peace at times.  I guess I enjoyed those some in the older cars but never seemed to spend as much time on the road due to fear of being stranded.  I don’t think  most people driving the minis and the fiats are enjoying the road trips like the Audi and Volvo owners.  Of course the feel of the car, the way it handles, and the stereo make it all a zen moment.  

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