Oh, Siri Where Art Me?

Go north, dad,” my son told me over the phone.

“How am I supposed to know which way is north?” I asked him.

It was snowing hard in Greeley so I couldn’t see the mountains to orient myself.

“Just turn left at the next intersection,” he assured me.

I was lost in Greeley in my brand new car. The streets were icy and I was worried about someone crashing into my cool new ride. But with my son’s help, I navigated to my destination safely. Once there, he showed me how to turn on my car’s built in compass a feature I hadn’t known existed. And although I had figured out how to synch my I Phone to the car so I could talk to Michael hands free, I had forgotten that Siri would have guided me to the address. As it was, Michael pinged Siri on my phone to figure out where I was and guide me. It turns out that I had a personalized on-board navigator and hadn’t even realized it.

There’s a lot of new technology like this. Like the old VCR that always blinked 12:00, many cool features on the latest gizmos go unused due to operator headspace. And it’s not just older folks like me. I see students trying to explain phone, tablet, or computer tasks to their peers on a regular basis at PPCC. Even for young minds, used to change, there are a lot of electronic augmentations to discover, master, and then incorporate into daily thinking patterns. It is hard for me, who was always an early adopter of new tech, to admit to being behind the curve. My new car does amazing things, from warning me about people and objects in my blind spots to guiding me to an unknown destination. I just have to get mentally prepared to using these innovations. I need to habituate myself to them.

When I was growing up I spent a lot of time in the car. Since my dad was military, we moved a lot. We also took a lot of road trips for vacations and seeing family members who were spread out all over the country. I taught myself to read maps at an early age as a survival skill. My mother was horrible at reading maps. She always got her directions reversed. She couldn’t even figure out how to refold a map. And my dad, who refused to pull over for fear of losing time, insisted she be the navigator. Fights always ensued. Parental arguments, in a small space miles from home, are really scary. So by age nine, I became the family navigator. And I was really good at it. It became a source of pride.

Later, in scouts and in the Army, I honed my skills even more. Given a map and a compass I learned pinpoint my position to within a 100 ft. I even taught orienteering at an outdoor education center. Changing a lifetime thinking pattern is hard. Stowing my map and letting Siri or my car give directions isn’t easy. My wife is actually better at it than me. Exhibit A is that she remembers to ask Siri for directions every time she goes somewhere unfamiliar. As my three loyal readers will remember, Kim resisted all new technology, particularly computer related, for years. Then she discovered Zappo’s and started spending so much time online I had to buy my own computer so I wouldn’t have to fight with her to get my work done.

She also took to the I phone faster than I did. I bought her one two years ago and she spent the first month frustrated, mad at me, and threatening to throw it out. Then she discovered Pandora. After that, a whole new world opened up for her. Now she and her sister in Texas send cat pictures back and forth all of the time. This is another way in which she has outpaced me. For years, I took all of the family photos with my 35mm SLR camera. Then I got a point and shoot digital camera that made photography really easy. And of course my phone has a built in camera. Guess which one I use to take pictures? The answer is none of them. I quit taking pictures because I forget that I always have a camera with me! Now, she takes pictures all of the time and even reminds me to do the same.

It’s not hopeless, however. As I mentioned, I did enable the Bluetooth on my new car as well as the Sirius XM option. We also got rid of our landline and cable television recently. I managed to install a new WiFi/router so we stream all of TV shows now, and my wife even controls her TV with her tablet. I often catch myself checking my phone for the correct time instead of my wristwatch. I’m also slowly transferring my little black address book to my phone. I even took a selfie recently for an online profile. These seem like little things to most people especially young people. But changing thinking patterns is hard.

Maybe someday there will be an app for that as well. Something to remind us that we have options we didn’t consider. A lot of people, and not just the ones I see professionally, get into trouble by thinking they only have one or two options when in fact they have more that they don’t consider. Most of us could use an app to help us navigate our lives. Yes, I know. Such gizmos are hitting the market as I write this. But those devices just help with the mundane aspects of life. I want something that will help navigate the really difficult choices: work, career, and love for instance. An app that will help us stay on the right path for us. A Siri for our Dharma so to speak. Directions for our feet, heads, and hearts.

I will get the hang of including new tools in my thinking process. Change, especially for the brain, is a good thing as we get older. It fights off Alzheimer’s and dementia. But I’m not giving up carrying maps, wearing a watch, or other vestiges of earlier times. Considering how many people have accidents while looking at their phone or drive into lakes, off of cliffs, etc. by strictly following their GPS directions, I think that’s a good thing. Better a late adopter than never. But having a back-up system is best of all.