Virtual Vehicles

It all started at the supermarket. I was in the car waiting for my friend to come out. Scanning the exit door, I noticed the oldest old-lady you’ve ever seen. She could barely push the carriage in front of her, she could scarcely find the keys to her car, she could hardly lift the groceries into the back seat, then she hobbled into her car. But zip, zap, zoom — she punched the accelerator and away she went, not an issue.

Funny isn’t it? A barely functional person has all the dexterity in the world when it comes to driving a multi-ton contraption of welded steel, a device that requires the proficiency to enact split-second decisions. Too funny in fact. So it got me wondering: what’s going on here. And then I knew. Driving is a “routine”. You get into a car, sit in the driver seat, turn it on, grab the wheel, place your foot on the pedal, and the routine begins. Autopilot turns on and away you go.

When I was a kid, I once went for a bike ride on a road that included a rather large hill. That day I went down the hill and pedaled along to increase my speed — which wasn’t a good idea. I was going too fast, my front wheel started to quiver back and forth, I got nervous and wiped out. My knee was a mess but I survived. At most, I was probably going around 15 to 20 mph down that hill.

Let me ask you this, can you normally make split-second death-defying decisions? I can’t obviously. Yet every one of us can somehow take a fire-powered land-rocket to speeds of 70 mph on a regular basis amongst other barely-functional people for DECADES and come out unscathed? Hm. Okay. In a physical reality, that doesn’t make sense.

For instance, how do we intuitively know how to drive? I don’t know about you, but my driving lessons were less than rigorous. My primary lesson was driving in a parking lot with my mom in the passenger seat for about 30 minutes. I even screwed up during the official driving-test and still passed. My test consisted of driving down an empty residential street (no more than 30 mph) and parking next to a curb — that was it. But that somehow qualified me for highway driving.

Yet if you sit me down in front of a piano or have me hold a guitar, I play like crap despite having toyed around with them for years. If you hand my 74 year old mother some hand-tools, she’s pretty incapable of using them — yet give her the biggest, most powerful tool you can legally purchase (a car) — and she’ll drive like the best of ’em. Funny huh?

So driving is a pre-programmed “routine”, so what. So what!? Well a routine doesn’t run in an isolated environment, it only runs as part of a larger program. The obviousness of driving serves to highlight the virtual-nature of the wider world. Unfortunately, driving speeds kept getting faster and faster — which becomes unbelievable at some point. But the program is accounting for this now: robotic self-driving cars.

On first blush, you’d think autonomous cars would be the unbelievable part of the story. That’s until you consider people that can’t even use a simple screwdriver or a hammer, let alone a cordless drill, are driving all the time without any problem whatsoever. Not long from now we’ll forget that people even drove cars and this plot-hole will be patched. Remember, people used to get around by horse, which was an autonomous vehicle of sorts. Even boats pretty much just float there when left unattended.

All we can do as players in this game is politely overlook such an obvious inconsistency. Though for myself, I use it as a reminder of what type of world this is: virtual. And I do that because I tend to take things too seriously. I see the illusions before me as real physical objects and react accordingly, which leads to a fear-filled time. But when I remember the illusionary nature of existence, and the fact that this is a manufactured environment, I relax and appreciate what an impressive place this is.

I guess I got a little more than I expected at the supermarket that day.