Live-by-wire

A while back, there was a show on the Speed channel about Formula-1 (F-1) racing. Formula-1 racing is that kind where they use the crazy looking uber-efficient cars, with the huge spoilers, extra intakes, big tires, etc. It’s what the movie “Days of Thunder” was about.

In this particular show, the show’s host, a stock-car racer (think NASCAR), was chatting with an F-1 racer. The host was allowed to take an F-1 car out on the track and do a few laps. They did a video analysis of the run afterwards, and the F-1 racer noted that the host could have saved a few tenths of a second if he had taken a few of the turns a bit tighter.

Now if you have ever taken a sharp turn a little too tightly, you’ve no doubt felt your inertia mix with centripetal force to give you the sensation that you’re being pushed to the outside of the curve (sort of like riding the Teacups in Disney World). We’re programmed to interpret that feedback as “careful there! You’re taking it a little fast!”

Apparently, in F-1 racing, the cars have internal computers that handle transferring the power to the wheels in such a way that you can take sharp curves VERY tightly, in order to maintain as much speed as possible as you round the bends. (That’s partly what the spoilers are for, as well — keep the rear tires pressed to the ground for maximum traction on curves). The host was instructed that he needs to “trust the car” and let it handle the curves.

Trusting the technology instead of our instincts. This just all feels so unnatural to me, and I can just feel my instincts throwing up all kinds of yellow flags about it.

I’ve been feeling the same way when I think about my career future. As a web developer, my livelihood is completely dependent on trusting the technology. If we didn’t have our communications & technology infrastructure, my skillset would be more or less useless.

My dilemma arises when weighing the benefits of a tech-career versus one that has non-technical applications and uses.

As a society, we are able to reach higher and higher the more we rely on our technological advancements and prowess. As we become more and more digital, we can process more information exponentially faster — but it becomes equally transient. If civilization vanished tomorrow, would there really be any recognizable records of our existence if it were entirely digitized? (Imagine, for a moment, if egyptian hieroglyphics were magnetically encoded onto piece of pottery rather than carved and painted onto stone walls) It’s a necessary tradeoff.

Obviously we stand to escalate society faster and faster the more we commit ourselves to technological growth. The question I ponder is whether it is worth straddling the old ways with the new as sort of an insurance policy. On a personal level — should I commit myself 100% to a career based on technology, or should I divert my time and energy to a career (or at the very least, a skill) that has some utility if our infrastructure should fall apart? What could a former web-developer offer a fallen society?

Our family does gardening, and I try my hand (often quite poorly) at basic carpentry. We are tentatively planning to raise some chickens next spring, and I am at least aware of some survival tricks (and have some books on the topic) for living off the land — but as I see it, we’d be pretty screwed if left to our own devices without the creature comforts modern society has to offer.

I am the stock-car-racer host, and I find myself taking the curves a little bit too wide because I am apprehensive about putting all my eggs into the basket of technology.

Anyone else taking their curves a little wide?