Thursday, 5 September 2013

The Sunday Drive and the App

Does anyone still go on a Sunday drive? The 1970's, I suppose, was the last time it was commonly done. People would set out with no set purpose or aim, heading up the coast, then motor back to town.

The car itself was so engrossing, so interesting, so innately sexy, that time spent in its company required no further reward.

To most of us, that now seems nutty. The point is to get somewhere!

Young people in particular have fallen out of love with the car. They would rather travel on public transport and check their iPhone/Smartphone, the item that's replaced the car as an expression of freedom and adulthood.

There's a battle being waged over those digital devices, some argue the apocalypse is upon us: parents, themselves distracted by their devices, have allowed a generation of young people to rewire their own brains.

This, of course, brings hoots of derision from those who argue that humanity has always embraced new technology and become richer and wiser for it.

The history of the car - and of that Sunday drive - might be a good place to start.

When cars came on the scene there was great anxiety. The technology was seen as alarming and dangerous; drivers were required to hire a man to walk ahead of the vehicle waving a red flag.

In retrospect this seems absurd, yet this was followed by a period that, to our eyes, now appears equally absurd: a time in which the new technology was embraced with such abandon, with such uncritical glee, that it was allowed to remake the world in its own image.

Cars were fun and liberating - that's why we fell for them with such a swoon - yet they also poisoned our lungs, chewed up our countryside and brought foreign wars to secure fuel.

We were unwilling to put any limit on a device so intriguing, so liberating. Adding a seatbelt was a battle that took years. Lead was left in the petrol because the engine seemed to like it.

Most of us look back at that period with bewilderment. We now believe the car should be tamed so it suits our wider needs: seatbelts, emission limits, a better balance between spending on road and rail.

Which brings us back to those digital devices. We are midway, it seems to me, along a road we have already travelled. As with the car, we started with outright anxiety - the red-flag period - then entered a period in which the technology became dominant, as if it were setting its own rules.

This, for many households, is where we are now. Kids and adults sit, dotted around the house, all using different devices, skipping from app to app, for hours at a time.

This is not done to get anywhere, to achieve anything; it's for the pleasure of time spent with the device.

Remember that Sunday drive?

The spaghetti junctions of LA still represent the worst of the motor car and its unfettered dominance. Will the rewired spaghetti of our brains come to represent a similar period of uncritical embrace?

No sensible person believes we can take a hammer to all new technology. True, we couldn't eradicate those mechanised looms, but they could be bent to better suit human needs.

Maybe we now need some push-back of our own. If nothing else, someone needs to say the obvious: if you wanted to produce a machine for creating social anxiety, particularly in teenagers, you'd probably come up with something that looked exactly like Facebook.

When parents demand children put down their devices, or when they make a deal with themselves to take a digital holiday, they are not being Luddites. They are merely getting ahead of an inevitable wave - one in which we will all understand that this technology, like all those that preceded it, must be bent to our needs.

"Every time I see an adult on a bicycle, I no longer despair for the future of the human race."
~~H.G. Wells

"Never drive faster than your guardian angel can fly."
~~Author Unknown

This is me at the family home in 1974 in my Sprite

Love this photo!


Christine said...

wonderful tribute to 'the car'!

bill lisleman said...

Nice car - I've always been too practical to own a convertible. Your climate might be better suited for it too.
Very thoughtful post. Reminded me a little of the Future Shock book from the 70's. I don't see as many similarities between cars and digital gadgets as you. However you do point out a few interesting ones. I have been surprised by the general lack of interest that young people have for cars. The relative cost of car ownership has jumped and I believe that has much to do with it. Traffic jams don't help their appeal either. New things will continue to be developed and applied in the wrong ways. Sorting out the mistakes hopefully will be done quickly.

miruspeg said...

Christine - my dear friend, no matter how long I have been absent from blogging you are always one of the first to leave a lovely comment.
Much appreciated! xxxxx

Bill - I always enjoy reading your feedback.♥
Back in the 1970's my brother and I used to restore cars as a hobby and this was one of them. I did drive this car for a short while before selling it and enjoyed the wind blowing in my face.
These days with so much traffic on the road driving is not a pleasure anymore. But I do have some lovely memories of my Sunday drives with friends and the music blaring!

Roban said...

First, I love the photo of the girl on the cycle, too. It's beyond lovely. Second, I had a convertible, too. An MG Midget. I was in my 20s, and the thing was beyond impractical, but it was fun while it lasted.

I've been thinking about technology, too, lately, and how the younger people who have not had children yet will balance life with those devices in their hands. Instead of talking to their children, child and parent will be as you said dotted around the house using their own personal devices. It takes 'presence' - a real 'presence' - to build, maintain, and cultivate relationships. I hope everyone (including me) will remember to put the phones down and enjoy real company more often.

(PS... And the song was one of my favorites back in the day. I enjoyed hearing it again!)

Marja said...

Very interesting post. As you know I am all day every day surrounded by technology; computers, phones, tablets... when I teach their use to people they are able to apply for jobs, connect to friends through email, Skype and facebook.
I enjoy it a lot but like the car brought freedom and disadvantages so too the gadgets do. Like communication used to be for a great part to exist through body language and you learn most social skills by interacting with others. I think a lack of developing these skills because of technology has taken over will make a lot of young people more lonely than ever.
The Sunday drive still exists in my live. We mostly plan were we go but not always. I love exploring. I think when oil becomes too expensive his might become a thing of the past or men most have invented something else. Love the picture with your car

miruspeg said...

Roban sounds like we both had a lot of fun in our 20's driving impractical cars! Ah those carefree days (at least that is the memory I have of my 20's - driving, listening to loud music and singing along out of tune)

The future children of Gen Y will have new devices/playthings and I feel the grandparents (you) will cultivate the relationships, drawing on your life experience.

Thanks for adding to the conversation my friend. ♥♥

miruspeg said...

Marja - I love using the latest gadgets and gaining new skills. Technology connects us in so many wonderful ways but sometimes technology gives us way more information than we need.
That word BALANCE must play a vital role in our lives.

You have also brought up a very interesting point about loneliness - I wonder if an explanation could be because they have failed to form or maintain essential real life bonds?

I know you are one of the few people who love the adventure of the "Sunday drive" and next time I visit Christchurch we will certainly have to experience one together! ♥♥♥

Mike Smith said...

Peggy - is that you on the Penny Farthing?!! (only joking...)

miruspeg said...

Oh Mike I would love to think that was me on the Penny Farthing, probably in a previous or future lifetime!

Can-Can said...

Our Sunday drives used to include going to the airport to watch the planes take off and, if lucky, going to get icecream! A long drive is great. I also love long train rides. Slowing the pace. All technology is good and evil.
I so agree with you about Facebook and I think it's dangers impact all users. Living outloud on technology, not having private moments, sharing every single photo or banal thought... some people go over board. Then, on the other hand using technology to help, to spread info, to crowd fund, etc. This or that. Always.

miruspeg said...

We live in very interesting times don't we Candelaria.
I feel blessed to have the memory of the Sunday drive and also to be part of this technological age.

Being an optimist I know we will ride out this present obsession we have, as you say of, "living outloud" and move on to the next chapter whatever that may be, unscathed and wiser.

Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, always great to hear from you. xxx