We are a two car family. Joe's car is a very small economy car with good gas mileage for his daily 54-mile commute. Mine is a smallish SUV with room enough for two kids and our stroller, jackets, toys, and other necessities.
I have driven Joe's car exactly three times in our six years of marriage, and they have all been in the last month. It's always a carseat issue.
My car was almost fully loaded when we bought it brand new in 2009. It's got automatic windshield wipers, automatic headlights, thermostat-controlled temperature zones, you name it. I rarely have to turn anything on, unless you count the ignition and the turn signals.
Joe's car is economical in every sense; it's got a DVD player and radio, automatic locks and windows, and knobs to control all of them.
The first time I drove Joe's car, I forgot to turn on the headlights, and I forgot to turn them off again. I couldn't see, then I couldn't figure out what was beeping at me. I didn't feel horrible about this, though, because I forgot to turn my lights on and off all the time before I had a car with automatic lights. No big deal.
The second time I drove Joe's car, there was heavy rain. I managed to work the windshield wipers, the radio, and the steering wheel all at the same time successfully.
The third time I drove Joe's car was last night. I got the lights on, and I headed out into traffic.
On the highway, in the semi-dark of twilight, the headlights behind me looked really bright. I thought, It's sure been a long time since I drove a little car like this in the dark. I don't remember the lights being so bright and obtrusive.
A few miles later, I wondered why being a little higher up in my SUV makes the lights less distracting. I couldn't figure it out.
A few miles after that, I wondered how Joe can drive his commute every day with those awful bright lights glaring at him from the rear view mirror. I was having trouble concentrating on the road.
And then I remembered.
I never tilted the rearview mirror. Once I did, the glare of the headlights was gone.
My car's rearview mirror is automatic. I have become so reliant on that technology that I forgot something I have learned more than fifteen years ago - you have to switch the rearview mirror at night.
I felt laughed at myself, but then I started to think about other times that technology has crippled me, prevented me from doing or knowing something that I really should know.
Because we can turn on a stove or a microwave, most of us don't know how to build a fire. We bought a fire pit over the summer so that we could roast hot dogs and marshmallows in our backyard. There was a definite learning curve to building a fire (and I have been content to let Joe experience it with no help from me). My mom and dad can build a fire without a second thought.
Because of television and computer, many of us have lost family time together.
Because of wrinkle-free fabrics, many of us don't even own an iron.
Because of boxed mixes, I don't know how to make good brownies from scratch.
Because of pre-cut vegetables, many of my friends don't know how to properly chop an onion.
Because of the internet, we no longer have to go to the library and research in books and magazines. (From @BarefootShari)
Because of fancy washers and dryers, we no longer have to wash our clothes and linens by hand. (From @nextmalawi)
I'm not saying that ironing and washing my clothes by hand would improve my quality of life, not at all. But I am wondering whether the vast changes in our lifestyle have left us unable to survive without the crutch of our technology.
Everything in our lives comes back to a lesson from Laura Ingalls Wilder. Sorry.
When Laura Ingalls Wilder's family moved from the Big Woods of Wisconsin to the Indian Country of Kansas, they lived off of the land. Pa built a house after cutting down local trees. He hunted game, and Ma and the girls foraged for fruits and vegetables. Pa built beds and chairs from the trees. They planted a garden.
The Ingalls family took care of everything they needed with only a few basic tools. (Though, those tools in their time were technology, I suppose.) In their own lives, however, they came to depend on boughten supplies and almost starved to death during a harsh winter.
Does our convenience, our streamlined life, make us better off than our parents - or worse?