For my Pittsburgh friends, I’m sure you recognize the image below. I remember the first time I saw one of these Ubers driving around the city, the metal cylinder spinning on top like something out of a science fiction novel, and my friend nonchalantly saying, “Oh, there’s one of those self-driving cars.”
Hold up. W H A T?
Now, contrary to what the title may have you may think, I’m not scared of self-driving cars in the sense that they are going to malfunction and end up causing more wrecks (I mean have you seen the way humans drive?) And no, I’m not scared that they’re going to hijack the human race and take over the world. Well, maybe a little.
I’m scared of self-driving cars because of the voice memos on my phone. Stay with me here! If you open up my phone and go to my voice memos, you’ll find audio recording after audio recording of me thinking through story plots out loud. The slow hum in the background of each recording tells you I’m in in my car. You see, although I live in the Philly area, I often travel back to Pittsburgh to see family and friends. Some might groan at the thought of a five hour drive across state, speeding along on the turnpike, alone, just you and your thoughts.
Confession: I kind of love it.
Driving is one of the rare times in my life when I am not plagued with the outside world. I am not tied to my computer screen, not tempted by my phone. I don’t listen to audiobooks or podcasts or talk radio. Instead, I play music, dance a little (or a lot), and allow my thoughts to just run.
And run they do. It is during these five hours car rides that my best ideas come to me. Often a lightbulb goes off—an answer to a massive plot hole, or a new character that will completely change the outcome of a short story. Sometimes full sentences will spill out of me, and before I know it I’m scrambling to get my phone, yelling at Siri to open Voice Memos.
For example, here’s a recording from April 2019 (in this recording, you can hear the faint sound of my windshield wiper squeaking back and forth, and raindrops tapping on the windows):
“Winifred Birdie lived on the end of the street…She walks around eating M&Ms from a plastic cup…One day she starts asking neighbors for scrap metal, and the neighbors can hear Ms. Birdie in her backyard plugging away at something. Hammers hammering, saws sawing, big thuds. In the morning she wanders the neighborhood, asking for scrap metal. In the afternoons, you hear her working away. And at night, she is quiet.”
Hmmmmm… does that sound familiar? 😉
So, although we may be decades away from when TRUE self-driving cars are the norm, it really isn’t difficult to imagine this new world. Basically, I imagine a lot of what already exists in today’s world. I envision people on public transportation—heads down, phones on. I envision dozing off, safe inside my robo-car. I envision texting friends, or mindlessly scrolling on social media, or my laptop in front of me as I work.
Basically, I envision a world where I do not have five hours ahead of me to allow my thoughts to just run.
And that, my friends, is why I’m scared of self-driving cars. Aren’t you????