Today I’m sharing a story about what one might call the hubris of technology. Maybe I should subtitle it, “On the Dangers of Letting Tech Make Us Sloppy and Lazy.” Or maybe I should just stop the preamble and start telling the story!
So I’m sitting in my car in a parking lot in Orleans. I’ve settled into a nice delineated slot and am sipping on the water and nibbling the afternoon snack I’ve just acquired when my car starts shaking. Shaken myself, I look up to see another vehicle pressing ever so slowly into my passenger side rear quarter panel.
“Honk!” I blast my horn to alert the driver that I’m here.
The vehicle moves forward a foot and then — as I watch in slo-mo disbelief — backs into me again.
“Honk-honk-honk” I hit my horn repeatedly.
The car pauses again, pulls slightly forward and as it begins its backward motion yet again, I jump out of my car, run around to the other side, and tap on the moving vehicle’s window.
The driver looks at me with a mix of annoyance and surprise. Her body, stopped in mid-acceleration, clearly wants to continue the parking lot maneuvers but with my face hovering at her passenger window, she has to stop.
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Now, before you make any of those road-driver-assumptions that I know we all leap to, this vehicle doesn’t bear a BMW or Mercedes badge; it says Toyota. It isn’t from New York or (fill in your favorite out-of-state annoyance); it wears a Massachusetts license plate. The vehicle is newer vintage, but not brand-spankin’ new. And the driver can’t hide behind a 17-year-old newbie or 80-year-old elder’s eyes.
In short, this vehicle and its driver should represent safe, reasoned, road abilities.
The front window I’ve knocked on rolls down. Eyes glare at me.
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“Didn’t you hear me honking at you?” I ask.
“Yes,” she says.
“Well, you were backing into my car.”
“No I wasn’t. You weren’t in my sensor. My backup camera said it was OK.”
Before I could help it, words slipped out of my mouth.
“Didn’t you look before backing up in a parking lot?”
Now she’s angry.
“My sensor said it was fine. My backup camera didn’t show me hitting anything. I didn’t hit you.”
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I point to the small scratches, which to be honest aren’t large because when a vehicle presses slowly into another the damage tends to be minor. I’m still shaking from the car shaking — but this lady looks like she’s about to go into road-rage mode, She’s again telling me, again in tones of the righteous true believer, that her sensor and backup camera said I wasn’t there so I couldn’t have been there.
I didn’t need random Toyota-lady causing more damage to either vehicle or self, so I said nothing more and let her drive away. As I watched her jump into traffic, I just prayed she would occasionally look at the road as she drives. Sensors and backup cameras might be great additional safety tools, but nothing says “car behind you” (or child behind you!) more clearly than looking with your own eyes as you back up.
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However, as I took a few deep breaths to recover from that awful feeling you get when your car gets hit, I realized that Toyota-lady has a lot of company. The more tech tools integrate into our world, the more we come to rely on them and trust them, even to the point of forgetting to check reality with our very own built-in human sensors, aka: eyes and ears and nose.
The concept of “real” and “true” have millennia of philosophical debate behind them. If our tech “sees” something, but our eyes “see” something else, which do we believe? When we look up at the stars, do we see the universe or are we looking at a filter someone placed above us? In short, what do we trust?
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From entertainment such as WandaVision, The Truman Show, and the Matrix to ancient writings such as Plato’s Allegory of the Cave (in which artists use the technology of fire and shadow to create a version of the truth), these stories make us ask how we sort direct perception versus augmented or intermediated perception. On the road today, tech brings this timeless question into hard world practice.
Vehicle technology has come a long way in a few short years. Self-driving and driving-assist elements appear with increasing frequency. The car — no longer a do-it-yourself mechanical box — has morphed into a sort of computer on wheels with remote software updates and lots of tools designed to save us from ourselves.
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Kelly Blue Book includes advanced driver assistance systems (aka packages of blind-spot alert, cross-traffic alert, reverse brake assist and lane departure warning), automatic emergency braking, 360 video, rear mirror video and stolen vehicle tracking software as among the top 2022 automobile technologies.
These represent true advances, which really do support the driver. I’m all in favor of this whole range of features which should, in theory, help keep us safe. But Toyota-lady reminded me about tech’s flipside: it becomes disconcertingly easy to abdicate our responsibility to the technology.
These packages offer great tools, bringing a new level of awareness of our surroundings, but at the end of the trip, they aren’t the driver of reality. If I’m behind your car, I really am there whether the car’s sensor says so, and as I drove back on the road myself, I did so with a refreshed appreciation for the value of input from my very own biosensors and a reminder to use tech as an advisor, not the final call.
Teresa Martin of Eastham lives, breathes and writes about the intersection of technology, business and humanity. You can reach her at


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