Self-driving cars and why we shouldn’t be afraid of technology

Google self-driving car
One of Google’s self-driving cars in action (Photo courtesy of motortrend.com)

Google is working on creating self-driving cars. They’ve already been testing these cars on roads in California. Think about that for a moment.

I think it’s a safe bet that within 10 years (probably less) we will start seeing self-driving cars on the road. You’ll look over at the car next to you, and the person in the “driver’s seat” will be fast asleep. How does that make you feel?

If it makes you nervous, you’re not alone. I’m no historian, but I think back to the books I read in high school English classes and I can remember several that painted worlds where technology had led to a terrible future (1984, Fahrenheit 451, and Brave New World come to mind). This fear of technology isn’t new.

Every technology can be abused, but each can be helpful in certain ways as well. I don’t think that should scare us. After all, isn’t that true of everything in this world around us, technology-related or not?

On an individual level, the reasons we fear technology are many. I’ve tried to boil this down to several primary reasons, but I’m sure there are more I haven’t thought of. I’ll try to unpack each of them, and then tell you why we needn’t fear technology for that reason.

Technology changes too quickly! 

For some people, this is an annoyance[1], but for others it’s really scary because we feel out of control. If I buy this, will it be out of date in two years? Why do I even need this thing? What are my kids doing on their phones these days?

It can be tough to keep up with the crazy pace of changing technology. The good news: most of the time we don’t have to. Do I really need a new TV with a bunch of features, or will a simpler one do the job? Do I need to upgrade at all? And if I buy a well-made gadget and take care of it well, then I probably won’t need to replace it as often as the advertisements tell me I should.

I don’t know how to use new technology! 

We’re all gifted in different areas, and for many people learning new technology is not where they’re gifted. Troubleshooting the gadgets you do own can also be really intimidating.

When it’s time to venture into unknown territory with some technology you’ve never used before, get someone to help you understand it. Look for a product that’s simple and durable. Sometimes that’s the newest model, but often it’s not. And don’t be afraid to ask for help when you’re learning how to use it. We’ve all run into problems we don’t know how to fix, so there’s no shame in asking for help.

I don’t want to become dependent on technology! 

Technology promises to make life easier, but what if it works too well? If Google went down, how would we learn anything? If my computer crashed, would I lose all the photos I’ve ever taken? 

The reality is we depend on technology every day. Refrigerator, car, medicine…they make our lives easier and we so often take that for granted. We place a lot of trust in things we have no control over every day, whether we realize it or not. I think we can choose to enjoy and be thankful for these blessings and still be mindful of the fact that we may not always have them.

Technology is make me (or my kids) dumber! 

Harry S Truman
The Google search took 0.25 seconds (Photo courtesy of whitehouse.gov)

Technology makes some things so much easier than they used to be. Parents often hand their young children their iPhone as a pacifier. Kids don’t memorize all the presidents, because they can just go to Google and see that the 33rd president was Harry S. Truman. (His middle name was actually the letter “S” by the way.) Children don’t even learn cursive in school anymore!

Things are certainly very different for this generation than previous ones. But hasn’t that always been the case? At some point in time, kids no longer had to go chop firewood because the family home was heated with oil. Did that make that generation lazier than their parents’ generation, who chopped wood as kids? No, and in fact it probably gave the children a bit more time to study or go to baseball practice or whatever else they were involved in.

I freely admit that many kids miss out on life experiences because they spend so much time staring at a screen. But that’s not the fault of technology; allowing that is a choice their parents make. I sometimes fall into the same problem those kids do. But it’s not my phone’s fault; it’s mine, because I choose how I interact with the technology around me.

Technology in the hands of the government/terrorists/hackers/corporations/public/robots will destroy society and the world as we know it! 

This is the fear in our hearts that is touched by so many dystopian novels, most recently and notably The Hunger Games. We fear that those with power will abuse technology for their own purposes. The fear is even greater when it’s a technology we’ve heard of but don’t understand.

To a certain degree this has been happening for centuries and I’d argue even millennia, whether the technology be related to farming, communications, weapons, or computing. And I have no doubt it will continue to happen; we can expect no less from imperfect, fallen people. But we need not fear it!

In Matthew chapter 6, Jesus says “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”

Worrying won’t help us.

In day-to-day life, let’s focus on using technology in ways that makes our lives simpler and more enjoyable. To the degree we can, let’s look for ways technology helps instead of hurts, and make sure those in power don’t abuse it. But instead of worrying about what we can’t control, let’s trust the One who does control everything and has promised to make all things new.

A vision of busy streets full of cars driven by computers can be scary. I can immediately think of many problems that might arise. But with human drivers, car crashes are already one the leading causes of death in the United States. Maybe self-driving cars will get us around more safely. And I also think of people who can’t physically drive a car (elderly, disabled, etc.) who would be able to maintain more independence with a car that can take them to the grocery store and back.

Like every technology, self-driving cars will be used in bad ways by some, but I’m equally sure they will also bring big and small benefits to many people. Let’s be thankful for the cars we have now, and if we ride in driverless cars one day, we can be thankful for that, too.

Did I miss anything? I’d love for you to be part of the conversation by commenting below and sending me a message.

1 – For example, I owned every Star Wars movie on VHS…and then last one was released only on DVD. Annoying!

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