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Sitting Still: Rejuvenation and Technology

I don’t expect rejuvenation to come from technology but honestly, I felt like a kid again. Riding home from a lecture by maker-extraordinaire, Mark Frauenfelder, I noticed a car on the road beside us. Janice drove which gave me time to inspect the vehicle that was classier, heck it was even cleaner than our humble Civic. The lines of the body felt intentional, designed, not necessarily showy but refined. I don’t know cars and never have, but I did notice the name on the back, “Model S.” My heart leapt. That was a Tesla, the first I’d ever seen on the road. I felt like a kid again.

Model S

Though that phrase is a cliche, I mean it quite literally. I grew up in Dearborn, MI and was steeped in the mythos of Henry Ford. One of the clearest images in my mind is the brick garage where he built his prototype and only then realized it was too large to fit out the door. According to legend, at least, Ford had to tear the existing door even larger so his creation could escape his impromptu workspace. That story always seemed like a true tale of creation and invention, that making an idea real requires pain, rupture. It’s easy for me, a man, to make the analogy between invention and birth, since I have not gone through the physical pain of childbirth. Ford’s garage makes me look at every garage differently as if to estimate what wonders might be gestating inside. Tesla seems the product of a crazy dreamer every bit as much as that first Ford.

And of course, I was a child during the Space Race, that glorious time when our driving technological metaphor was to reach the stars. It captivated our imaginations, the adventure of space travel and the ingenuity required to make those dreams real. Sure, there are valid critiques of the drive to space on a variety of levels, but from an the boyishly hopeful perspective, walking on the moom seems a more innocent, pro-social goal than military superiority or even the current rage for computer “security” and its ubiquitous surveillance. I was momentarily excited by the “One Child One Laptop” idea, not because it was a goal more worthy than, say, fresh drinking water or de militarization. I thought that the goal of providing a laptop for every child on earth was at last another grand metaphor for technology that could inspire us to invent for our common good.

Both of those childhood memories exploded into my mind when I saw that Tesla. Elon Musk is the adventuring scientist of my childhood dreams. From the re-usable rockets from SpaceX to the sexy electrics of Tesla, and yes, even his sometimes wacky pronouncements, Musk is exactly the kind of mad scientist I wanted to grow up to be. Seeing that Model S driving down the road made every ounce of that dream feel possible again. Since I was in the passenger seat, I goaded Janice to drive faster so I could soak up the experience. From every angle, the sedan felt… cool. I flashed a thumbs up to the driver — like some rodster teenager — and after a moment’s confusion, he rocketed past us, returning the gesture.

Part of the odd affection I have for Musk and the Tesla is unabashedly patriotic. I grew up in Ford’s town and my grandmother lived in Flint, “BuickTown.” There were squabbles in the family between Ford and GM partisans, good natured but spirited. The day I bought my Civic, despite all my rationalizations, I felt like a traitor, not just to my country but to my family. It was a noble compromise since the vehicle had at least been assembled in the States and gas efficiency, I knew, would be a cornerstone of American independance in coming decades. Still, it was a subtle admission that no one in my homeland was building the vehicle of my dreams.

Seeing that Tesla yesterday changed things for me. It reminded me that even in everyday activities like getting places, there is the possibility for hope. More, since that car reminded me of childhood, I realized that I must have carried those wellsprings of hope with me for quite some time. If this article has a point, it certainly isn’t to buy a Tesla or even to support single user transportation. Heck, the message isn’t necessarily about technology at all. It’s about hope and that special kind of hope that is rejuvenation, of connecting with the dreams of youth. Keep your eyes open for tangible reminders; it might be right next to you.

Posted in • Sitting Still.