OH NO, the future is here!

I was sitting around trying to decide what I wanted to make for dinner. It came to me in a flash! I made sweet and sour pork which is Sue’s favorite meal. Certain there was no pineapple in the house, I jumped into the car and headed for the local grocery, eight miles away. On the way I tuned into the PBS station. XM radio, what amazing technology! As I am cruising down the road, a futurist (a person who tries to see what will happen in the future, and more important, gets paid for it) from the Google Corporation was talking about self-driving-cars. He discussed cars in the near future could travel from one place to another using existing roads much faster, much safer and much more efficiently than anything possible with mere mortals at the wheel. He presented the fact that nearly 30,000 people die each year in automobile wrecks, not to mention the number of chronic injuries. With computers running the show, that number would drop to close to zero! Of course there will be glitches, as in all new technology. Many of us will be very upset if the computer malfunctions and someone dies. Conceivably these deaths could be counted on one hand as compared to those 30,000 deaths we are responsible for. Let’s face it; walking down the basement steps has its share of risk. I wonder how many people die each year slipping and falling down steps.
The Google engineer felt that the self-driven vehicle would be available to the general public in five years. I am not sure we are ready to give up the wheel to a cold, unemotional device capable of making rational, unbiased and accurate decisions a thousand times faster than we. The car is such an iconic piece of machinery today; it fosters the illusion of freedom and self-reliance. Many drivers dream of going down the road in their up-scaled, flashy red sports car with the top down, the warm wind rushing through their hair and the open road in front of them. I am sure the computer would put the top up to save fuel and wrestle the steering wheel and gas pedal away from us, all in the name of safety and efficiency. The automobile is simply one of many devices that will eventually be controlled by a small computer chip; it just happens to be the one we are in love with.
The real issue in this scenario is not who is in control but rather which intelligence is being used more. Driving a car does not take a large intellectual effort, but it does require intelligent involvement. During a trip to the market, one must watch the road for all kinds of potential hazards: crazed drivers, teen drivers, deer crossing, road debris, and as the Google engineer referred to them, unexpected events. In addition to all that, one must monitor the speed of the vehicle and operation of the vehicle, gas gauge, road signs, destination, a cup of coffee and cell phones usage. Have you ever watched the people in a mass transit vehicle? There are a few people reading books and newspaper, but the majority of the people are simply staring off into the distance with their brain on pause. In other words, they are not utilizing any part of their brain. Despite the fact that computer-controlled cars will be beneficial to everyone who travels any distance at all, they will make us a little bit dumber in the long run. I am sure you remember when most of us could add, subtract, multiply and divide numbers in our head; not any more! Today most of us run for a calculator to find the answer to a problem we once did without hesitation! So the calculator, which was a great invention, made the general population a little bit dumber.
The Disney movie WALLY takes the idea of computer-controlled environment to the nth degree, telling us about a society that has deteriorated to the point of near total complacency. This culture never leave their lounge chairs as there every need is taken care of by an army of intelligent robots. I think it is important for me to clarify that I LOVE TECHNOLOGY! I love my computer, cruise control in my car, digital recording devices, smart TVs, power windows in my car, satellite TV and anything that keeps me from wasting time doing unnecessary mundane chores! The important question here is this: where does it stop? When does my body simply becomes an organic blob sitting in a chair, not thinking, not doing, just eating and breathing while a computer chip takes care of my every whim? It is my conviction is that our species tends to settle to its lowest energy state: in other words, the least amount of work possible. I would write more on this interesting subject but my brain is getting tired and so I am going back to my lounge chair to watch some mindless football….


Staying at the resort


Recently I have had the ‘pleasure’ of teaching at our local juvenile detention center. Needless to say, this has been an eye-opening experience for me, having spent my life jail-free. It seems as if ideas to reform the current prison system are as numerous as belly buttons. Yet, over the last 50 years or so, from what I have learned, not much has changed in that system. In my brief time at the center, I have observed a few problems that could be easily, and I might add, inexpensively, remedied.
The most important, and the reason I call this ‘the resort,’ is the lack of responsibility expected of inmates. In many ways it reminds me of a five star hotel, where the visitor relaxes while the staff meets their every need and desire. For an inmate there is no concern about laundry, because it is done for them, or food preparation and clean up, which is done for them. Moreover money management, or any of the responsibilities that go with life in the real world are seen to by the guards? If you are an inmate, you need not concern yourself with medical or dental bills, because they are provided to them by the state. On the other hand, the employees who maintain the prison have the constant worry of paying medical bills and dealing with insurance companies. After spending one’s allotted time in the ‘big-house,’ one returns to the real world wondering why he/she has to do all these distasteful chores. As an inmate he has learned very few skills appropriate for surviving in the outside world. Paradoxically, prisons seem to do a good job at teaching folks all the things they should not do and then how to get away with it.
As a teacher in this facility, I find it difficult to get a grip on what is actually expected of me or my students. Most are attempting to obtain the General Education Degree (GED) by studying for and taking a series of tests in all the major areas of study. Some experts believe that obtaining the GED equates to a better education than many public school systems are providing. A smattering of students in the juvenile system are hoping to return to public school to complete their high school degree; in which case, we are attempting to teach them high school classes that they can earn credits in. The biggest problem we face in educating these students is the lack of motivation by students who had little motivation when they were not incarcerated and attending regular schools. The old adage that you can lead a horse to water but the horse decides when it will drink, is very appropriate in this situation. The difference between an adult and a juvenile facility is that attending school is a privilege for adult prisoners but not so for juvies who are forced to go to school. This is one of the problems with public schools today; classrooms are filled with students who are excited about learning, along with kids who would rather be any place in the world than in a classroom. Since we provide very few alternatives to our public school or juvenile delinquents, other than the traditional classroom, everybody is stuck in the classroom regardless of motivation.
I think that in addition to making juveniles more responsible for the everyday tasks associated with life, education should be a privilege and a place they go to because they choose to, not because they are forced to. The present generation has been labeled in several ways, two of which are: THE ENTITLED GENERATION and THE ME GENERATION. When we as a population think every thing centers on us, it results in a very self-absorbed people. Successful societies as well as the communities within, rely on people looking out for their fellow man. One of the things we tend not to teach our children very successfully is how to fail as well as to achieve. Telling little Johnny that he did a great job, knowing that he spent very little effort, is teaching him that achievement is something that comes easily! Achievement comes with a price and oftentimes it is a high price! Failing at something, without the social tools to deal with it may be one large reason so many people end up in jail.
Hillary Clinton, who has a good opportunity of being our first female president, said that it takes a community to raise a child. Truer words could not have been spoken. I was told by a friend last week that the American Indian never incarcerated their own people. As far as I know, this is true and if it is true, one wonders why we have almost 1% of our population behind bars. Our jails are filled because we as a community have failed! I think strong communities could reduce the load on our prison system!
Wikipedia provides these sobering statistics:
“The incarceration rate in the United States of America is the highest in the world today. As of 2009, the incarceration rate was 743 per 100,000 of national population (0.743%).[2] In comparison, Russia had the second highest, at 577 per 100,000, Canada was 123rd in the world at 117 per 100,000, and China had 120 per 100,000.[2]”
As I have said so many times before, I love this country as it has provided me a lifestyle and a standard of living as good as any place in the world, but our many problems run deep. We are a much troubled society spiraling downward, with consequences unknowable! Our government is floundering, our schools are failing its students, our prisons are over-loaded, our environment is in critical condition and many of us have no clue what is happening around us. The short solution to all these problems is a renewed since of community and a much-improved educational system and until we realize that, we are destined to become the next Rome before he fall.
Thank you for staying with us and be sure to come back and stay again.