De-Automate me, please.

Sometimes I want to think for myself, in the simplest terms. Sometimes I want to go to the bathroom at a restaurant and flush the toilet at my discretion, turn the water on and off at will, pump out my own hand-soap, pull out my own paper towel to dry my hands, without waving them, like a crazy person, in front of some sensor that won’t cooperate, or is overly cooperative and dispenses far too much of its assigned commodity. It seems like opportunities to control simple things are becoming more scarce by the day.

Sometimes I want to find my own way somewhere without an aseptic computer voice haranguing me when I need to turn, sometimes erroneously. I’ve been witness to an, otherwise sane, married couple screaming at each other as they circled a church they were trying to get to for a wedding. The church was in clear view, only a couple of blocks away. Yet, the navigation system in their car kept insisting they make right turn after right turn, trying to avoid one-way streets and a construction site. This small, technological device had somehow disarmed their normally acute common sense and put their marriage on the rocks, simply because they were given over to believe, to trust, in that motherly voice to get them where they needed to go. When that voice failed them, they were powerless to adapt, at least for a little while.

Over the weekend, I drove a couple of hours west to take a short family trip. I used the navigation system to get me there. The trip was relatively seamless. The technology did what it was supposed to do. I used it again on the way home. I drove carefully, enjoyed the scenery and got back without incident. Even though my destination is only a hundred miles from me, only requiring about four turns to get there, I cannot tell you how to get there without looking it up.

In the days before GPS, even in the days of Mapquest, I would have had detailed directions. I would have mentally noted landmarks and highway numbers. I would be able, one day later, to tell you exactly how I got to my weekend getaway with meticulous accuracy.

The brain takes on the load it needs to take. When we have ease, when we have thinking taken away from us, we simply stop thinking. The necessary tools we previously needed to function stop working. If those mental tools remain dormant for long enough, they may be difficult to jump start, when needed again. Just like any skill or physical ability, the ‘use it or lose it’ rule applies.

In my novel, Ephemera, the populace has lost it, on many more levels than navigation or turning on a faucet. Children born into the world of thoughtless ease never even develop the skills that lie dormant in older people. This is something we need to be imminently wary of.

At one point in the book, a character observes that knowledge of geography is a thing of the past. Due to a lacking educational system, this is already becoming a fact among our younger generations, and has been getting worse for decades. American students fail even basic world, or national, geographic knowledge. With GPS technology, the problem can only worsen. Soon, people won’t be able to find their way around their state or county without the driver’s little helper. Why think about where you are when someone else is doing it for you?

As technological replacements for thinking multiply, human thinking is deprived, whether it is getting where you are going, or going when you have to go. How long will it be until a child is befuddled when presented with a sink that has traditional taps?

I have a three year old, who already asks me, whenever we are out and have to visit the loo, “Dad, does this toilet flush by itself , or is there a handle?” You have to ask yourself if this is really what we want for people.

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