While breezing down Highway 10 the other day on my way to Sartell, I turned on Minnesota Public Radio and heard a woman talking about how “driverless cars” are in store for us in the future.
I laughed so hard I almost lost control of my Dodge, almost veered into the ditch.
“Driverless cars in the future?” I thought to myself. “They’re already here!”
Oblivious people sitting behind steering wheels texting, gobbling down junk food, fiddling in purses or pockets, reading newspapers, putting on makeup and in some cases even indulging in awkward hanky-panky, so to speak. Those are the driverless drivers who do just fine, thank you – that is, until their fast-moving machine comes to an instant stop when it collides with another fast-moving machine, at which time phones, newspapers, fast food and – horribly – sometimes even body parts go flying.
The woman on the radio said they’re already making driverless cars, which are kind of roundish comfy pods with no steering wheels. Sounds a bit like the kiddie bumper cars at county fairs. The new vehicles can go up to 25 mph. Fat chance they’ll sell any, not with the speed fiends who burn rubber on roads around here and have no clue what a speed-limit sign is, especially on that race track known as Highway 10 where “65” means you have to go faster than that – much faster – to get from here to hell and back in time for supper.
As speed demons kept passing me, the radio woman kept talking, telling me there’ll be a lot of tweaking before the driverless car hits the roads. Well, I guess! Like getting its speed up to at least 80 mph so some hurry-up folks can get to places faster, like they do now.
Maybe the driverless car, I’m thinking, is not such a bad idea, after all. Maybe with its super-smart radar beams, it could see stops signs, yield signs, no-passing zones, yellow and red lights – the things so many blind-dummy “drivers” don’t see now.
The new car might be an improvement, but what if its complex circuitry has a breakdown, and everything goes haywire like the mental lapses of some of these current driverless vehicles? Whoops. More accidents, more phones, more newspapers, more junk food going flying.
On the way home from Sartell, with demons still whizzing past, a couple of them flipping me off for being an old 65-mph slowpoke, I kept thinking about a book I read way back in 1970 called Future Shock by Alvin Toffler. It’s one of the most fascinating but confounding books I’ve ever read – fascinating because it gave a tantalizing glimpse of what the future would look like, confounding because it reminded me of how I would’ve been much happier living in the 19th Century. I was – and am – a true victim of “future shock.”
In his book, Toffler and his wife, Heidi, predicted such future developments as cloning, home-schooling, constructs of Internet and YouTube, therapeutic drugs for just about every condition, people having 18 jobs in a lifetime, an increasingly throwaway society, same-sex marriages, transient relationships and living conditions, artificial intelligence, constant mobility and flurries of information overload. Some of the Tofflers’ predictions made sense to me. Others I laughed at, dismissing them as preposterous. That’s mainly because my 19th Century mind-set couldn’t grasp anything technological beyond an electric typewriter or a four-slice toaster.
When the Tofflers asked readers to believe a flying car will become a future reality, I lost it.
“That’ll be the day,” I scoffed derisively. “If it’s so, I hope I’m dead by then.”
Could it be the driverless car will be just a transition to the ultimate mode of transportation – the flying car? I shudder to think of it.
Let me put it this way: Thank goodness I’m getting old – whoops, I mean even older. Someday, you can all zip around in your driverless pods; you can zoom into the wild blue yonder with your flying cocoons. As for me, when that future shock arrives, you can bet your bottom buck I’ll be driving a horse and buggy, galloping backwards, fast as hell, right back into the middle of the 19th Century.