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Smart cars for fast living

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Daily Citizen

Kay Stellpflug

My husband shares a birthday with his grandmother. They are exactly 60 years apart.

When he called her on her 90th birthday to ask his annual question, she gave her annual response. Jack asked, after wishing her a very happy birthday and many happy returns, “Is 90 better than 30?” She responded, “You better believe it is, but you’ll never get there. You live too fast.”

And they laughed as they always laughed. Each year she would chide him for “living too fast.”

When we look at all that has been introduced between 1889 when she was born, and 1989 when she passed away, living fast is an understatement. We often wonder what Grandma would say about things now. She lived to see so much change, but “The Jetsons” was just a cartoon back then. Now most of those ideas are old news.

Travel by train was daring and adventurous, but early in grandma’s life she and her sister took a trip to sod houses in the Dakotas and went on as far as California to visit cousins. Although air travel was not hers to experience, she was a jet setter for her day. She boldly went where no farm woman went before, but she still thought we were moving too fast.

The phrase “living too fast” has stuck with me. I use it when I feel a bit overwhelmed by what is going on around me. Whenever I ask myself “what will they think of next,” I hear Grandma’s voice.

Take self driving cars. There have always been self driving cars. They were called horses. Horses got you home at night without your guidance. They wouldn’t go off the road, run into anyone or be distracted. Horses don’t put lipstick on or fiddle with the radio, they just move forward with confidence.

When I used to talk with people about driverless cars I would just say, “Not in our lifetime.” But there are trains and subways and monorails and they are all being electrically and technologically guided, and cars are not far behind.

“Let me know so I can stay off the road,” I would say.

I feel a bit different now. Human drivers have left innumerable bodies strewn over the roadside because of carelessness. Computers don’t text or eat a happy meal while trying to control a 2,000-pound mass careening at 70 mph down a freeway.

My faith in humans is diminishing as they all try to live too fast. I am not advocating driverless cars. But I do know that cars have already been “smart” for a long time.

They have added anti-lock brakes and power steering. Cruise control, backup sensors and cameras have assisted drivers without any of us taking much note. Cars can parallel park and have all kinds of accident avoidance technology. I know this is all good.

We know technology is only as good as the programmer. We know that things can and do fail. We are reluctant to accept new things, because we just have never known such a thing and new things scare us as much as fascinate us.

But there is more to it than that. For those of us who like hitting the open road, who relish the mug of tea or coffee, the bag of pretzels and the maps open to new places it is like those cross country adventures of Jack’s grandmother. It is experiencing someplace new and having the ability to pull over and stop at the brown signs. Historic markers and state parks call for a “pull over.” Using hands-free blue tooth is already an advancement I have adjusted to. Could I adjust to hands-free driving?

I guess I could put on my lipstick without fear of an accident and check my email while my car is getting me to my next adventure. But seriously, I love my steering wheel and the freedom and feeling of control it gives me. I bet Jack’s grandmother would understand that.

As an educator and trainer in interpersonal and professional communications, Kay Stellpflug challenges companies, organizations, and individuals to stretch. She lives in, works in and loves Beaver Dam.

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