A Lot of Things Should be Harder to Do

A Lot of Things Should be Harder to Do November 27, 2019

This is actually a brilliant invention. One of the best.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, which is tomorrow in case you forgot to take your turkey out of the freezer, here is something a little bit crazy that I didn’t know about. Turns out, if you are trying to be an Instagram “Influencer” and it’s taking too long because you don’t know that many people and your mom already pushed like, you can get online and buy yourself some followers who will come in and like everything indiscriminately…because it’s just one guy with a computer program.

One of the things that I am most happy about in my whole life right now is that my parents have not been able to take their new-old car with them to Kenya. They had to leave it with me, because no one in their right mind would take a 30-year-old Toyota station wagon anywhere, except by driving it across the country which is how they brought it here. I will say, it is not the most beautiful car I’ve ever seen—and I do love a beautiful car. The hood has some slight discoloration and it looks, well, just a touch outdated. But truly, I think it is a very respectable car and I have quickly developed a deep abiding affection for it.

And that is because it is one of those old-timey wonderful standard transition contraptions where you can’t just get in and turn the key and glide off. It takes your whole body, soul, mind, and spirit to make it go down the road.

I learned to drive on a stick, way back in the day. My first driving experience was in our nice little car (don’t know what kind) in the village in Mali, careening along, swerving wildly to avoid chickens, deep rivuleted grooves, stones, and anything else that happened to wander across the path, or road, or whatever you want to call it. I already adored the sensation of speed, the flying along on my sturdy bike through the bush. A car, though, is so much better.

So then I had to come to America and face down a 1970-something orange Volvo station wagon that had to be shifted with two hands and a lot of anxious weeping. I had to drive that car up and down the hills of Portland, OR, which is only slightly better than trying to do it in San Francisco. But I mastered that car, I trundled up and down the valleys and hills, highways and byways. And then somehow I moved somewhere else and ended up with one of these wretched “automatic” beasts and here I have been stuck ever since. 

Driving this lovely old Toyota around Binghamton I’ve discovered that the last twenty years of driving has been so deeply boring that I don’t even know how I’ve been bearing it. There’s nothing to do in the car. It carries you around like a great ruddy baby. You have no relationship with its movement, its soul. No wonder everyone reaches over to glance at the phone, to scroll through the texts to find out who has pushed like on the last Instagram picture.

For the first time in ages, getting in a car and going somewhere is an absolute pleasure. Also, all my muscles ache and I am slightly too short so that I have to slump down to push the clutch all the way to the floor. Also, getting it to turn on takes about three and a half minutes so I have to think long and hard ahead of time about going anywhere.

What does this have to do with fake Instagram influencing? Cheap and easy isn’t actually better. That’s what I’m trying to say. There are a lot of modern inventions that are absolutely brilliant and wonderful. The telephone attached to the wall, for example, was amazing. Someone could call you in your own house from far away! And you could chat. That was brilliant. Heat—also a really lovely invention. The refrigerator, the indoor plumbing, the economy that moves exotic food (like the persimmons I bought yesterday that I can’t possibly grow here in this ridiculously cold place) from one place to another. Also super happy about the doctor who has the skill and the technology to pin my child’s elbow into place. Don’t even really mind the airplane, except that it has become harder in all the wrong ways and for none of the right kinds of reasons. For all of these life-altering inventions, I am so grateful.

But the computer in the shape of a phone in my pocket? The car that doesn’t even need to be driven? The frictionless life in which everyone is careening along, the way I used to fly down the road without thought or reason? None of these ideas are that great.

Driving should be so fun that no one should even think of looking at her phone. Taking pictures should be harder than waving a phone around and touching a round circle that doesn’t even push back. Getting people to like you should cost more than $15 bucks and a couple of clicks. That’s what I’m saying.

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