Ways of Making Progress

I am not one of those people who pines for the way things used to be.

I mean, I grew up before there was a vaccine for measles and related diseases, which means that I had every version of measles possible regularly from the time I was five to the time I was ten.

I am fortunate that I had no lasting effects from those bouts, but it wouldn’t have been a bad thing to have missed out on measles.

So I’m a huge fan of vaccines and of other treatments and preventative measures for contagious disease. (I can rant about this at length, and have, but that’s not my goal in this post.)

In general, I’m in favor of many of the changes that have occurred in my lifetime, the mechanical and the digital as well as the medical. For example, as soon as I learned to type, I began writing on a typewriter.

I jumped to correcting typewriters as soon as I could afford one and I got my first computer in 1983 primarily as a writing device.

I also love the communication options. Email is great. Texting is great. Having a phone with you so you can coordinate meeting up in person is fantastic.

What I don’t love are the constant changes and updates. While security updates are important and some changes do provide an improved product, there are way more updates than need to happen.

And of course, if you don’t want to change all those things, sooner or later your computer won’t be able to use the tools it needs.

Here’s the other problem — and it might be the one that bugs me the most — these changes are sent along willy-nilly, with no regard to your reasons for using the device or what you might be doing at the time.

It’s not like you get a message — email would work for this nicely — that says these updates are available and recommended and here is where you go to get them when you’ve set aside some time for tech maintenance. Nor is it like you get a choice when, say, you don’t really want to change your word processing program.

No, they assume that the most important thing in your life is tech maintenance and interrupt whatever you’re doing, when in fact the most important things are the projects that you’re using the tech devices to do.

Writing, analyzing data, meeting people via Zoom — those are the important things, not keeping up the computer.

This is why large companies have a tech department, so their employees can call in panic when something goes wrong and so that the company can schedule appropriate changes around the job they’re actually doing.

But we freelancers are our own tech support and the companies that make the tools do not consider the fact that we want a tool to use, not a tech project that requires ongoing attention.

Here’s another problem that I’m noticing with both tech tools and cars: they’re homogenizing the way things work.

I’d like to be able to modify things so that they work best for me, but those who manufacture them seem to think they know better. And because they don’t offer their systems in a way that makes it easy to change things, I have trouble getting around it.

I am currently using a rental car and I admit that some of the new safety features — once I figure out how they work — do make things safer.

But newer cars are so easy to drive that it’s too easy to zone out while driving. As an example: my current car — which is 15-years-old and good for another 15, according to my mechanic — has a stick shift.

Now I know those are going the way of the dinosaurs (and I don’t mean they’re going to become birds). The mechanical shifters required in older gas-powered cars aren’t needed in electric ones. And gas-powered cars need to go.

But something I’ve noticed lately in my neighborhood is that almost everyone makes a “rolling stop” at all the stop signs. And that’s partly because they don’t have to shift down to first when they stop; they can just put their foot lightly on the brake and then accelerate quickly.

I don’t think it’s intentional, but as a pedestrian it drives me wild. Cars are large heavy machines that will do great harm if they hit someone. They should always come to a complete stop. The only vehicles that should do rolling stops at intersections are bicycles.

Because I constantly have to shift gears when driving, I have to pay a lot more attention. And driving requires a lot of attention. Modern cars make it way too easy to let your attention wander.

Now I don’t actually think the solution is for everyone to drive a stick. I think the solution is a lot fewer cars and stricter traffic rules, with extremely low speed limits in areas with a lot of pedestrian traffic.

I mean, I notice when I drive that even I have trouble paying attention to everything and that I am wont to drive a little too fast when I can. And that’s with a car that requires more attention.

Here’s what I’m trying to get to here: we can control these things as a community of people, whether we’re talking transportation or tech or public health.

We don’t have to put up with some company’s idea of how things should be.

I’m not saying it’s easy, but I am saying we need to think about ways to do it, just like we need to think about vaccines and public health and people staying home when they’re sick so that we don’t all get every disease out there.

I would have loved to miss measles. And wouldn’t it be wonderful to live in a world with ever-decreasing traffic deaths?

Not to mention one where I get to decide what I want my tech to do.

I’m sure someone is going to tell me that there’s no profit in the changes I want, so they won’t happen. But it’s time we stopped thinking like that.

It’s time for all of us to start thinking about how we’d like to live and take steps toward making the world work like that.

That’s the only way it will happen.

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