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Carl Wernicke: Tech-ing While Driving

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 Listeners of these commentaries, and readers of my past newspaper columns, can be forgiven for wondering if I am a technophobe. Because I have issued a long list of complaints about modern technology.

So I try to make an effort to point out when I encounter technology that I like. For example, I have previously extolled those mapping apps that provide driving directions, even if we did spend an unproductive half hour near Jacksonville once looking for a barbecue place the app insisted was just off the interstate. But even overseas we have learned to trust the little direction finder even when it doesn’t seem possible that the route we are following will lead to where we want to go. And other than for that barbecue place, it has always delivered. Although I could do without the snarky tone when we miss a turn.

Recently I discovered several new technologies on automobiles that I like.

Now, you have to understand that our own cars are like our cell phones … always lagging behind the technology curve. So when we rent a vehicle, it usually has stuff we have no clue about. I might have seen these features on TV ads, but never actually used them myself. And seeing them on TV, they sometimes seem useful mostly to the car dealer to add profit.

But on a trip out west we rented a car, and I soon noticed that a little yellow light on the side mirrors kept blinking at me. It would speed up, and then stop, only to start again later. Eventually I figured out that it was telling me that there was a vehicle in my blind spot; this happened when I started to change lanes and the car beeped at me in warning. Aha, I thought, that’s what you’re trying to tell me! I quickly got comfortable with it on a crowded California interstate. Anything that gives you more confidence that you are driving safely is a good thing.

Then on a recent trip to Jacksonville with a big family group we rented a van, which I drove. It had a back-up camera, which on a big vehicle is nice. But I didn’t really appreciate it until we arrived at our lodging. The tiny parking lot was inside a narrow entrance through a high brick wall. The van is bigger and wider than our vehicle, and the only way out was to back out onto the street. This worried me considerably as I remembered how confidently I had turned down the collision damage waiver at the rental office, and got the stern lecture from the clerk about how I was responsible for all damage to the vehicle.

But as I attempted my first exit from the parking lot, this huge TV screen popped on when I shifted into reverse. There were two large green lines showing the sides of the vehicle, with two yellow lines showing the direction we were moving. By watching the screen I was able to easily and flawlessly back out of the lot. Once again, it reduced stress by giving me control of the situation.

At this point I’m getting so confident in my mastery of technology that I’m almost ready to try figuring out my TV’s remote control.  

Carl Wernicke is a native of Pensacola. He graduated from the University of Florida in 1975 with a degree in journalism. After 33 years as a reporter and editor, he retired from the Pensacola News Journal in April 2012; he spent the last 15 years at the PNJ as editor of the editorial page. He joined the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition in 2012 as Senior Writer and Communications Manager, and retired from IHMC in 2015.His hobbies include reading, traveling, gardening, hiking, enjoying nature around his home in Downtown Pensacola, as well as watching baseball and college football, especially the Florida Gators and New York Yankees. His wife, Patti, retired as a senior vice president at Gulf Winds Federal Credit Union and is a Master Gardener. Carl is a regular contributor to WUWF. His commentaries focus on life in and around the Pensacola area and range in subject matter from birding to downtown redevelopment and from preserving our natural heritage to life in local neighborhoods.