DANCES WITH WORDS: There’s a problem with automatic

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Nick Wolochatiuk

The Mercedes sedan I’ve ferried between Montreal and Florida on a couple of occasions automatically adjusts seat positions to its regular drivers’ preferences, automatically locks its doors once the vehicle gets under way, automatically maintains the chosen cabin temperature, automatically issues periodic status reports on engine maintenance needs and automatically re-aims the side mirror to assist in parking.

In the beginning there was darkness. Then God said “Let there be light.” And the light appeared, and God was pleased. These days, motion-activated sentry lights around homes, businesses, industrial sites come on automatically. The lights in some public washrooms come on automatically. The oldest automatic lights were the ones in refrigerators and cars: as soon as their doors were opened, there was light.

As soon as you start the car engine, the running lights come on automatically. Unfortunately, not the tail lights on most, resulting in invisible cars sometimes being ahead of you during the night.

There are motion sensors everywhere. Store doors open and close automatically as you approach them. In public washrooms, the lights come on automatically, turn off automatically upon the user’s departure. As you raise yourself from the toilet seat, there is an automatic rush of water. The soap dispenser, water faucet, forced air hand dryer or paper towel dispenser all sense the presence of our hands and come on automatically.

Some automatic devices are more intelligent and sophisticated than others. There are some smart toilet-flushers that allow us to fully vacate the seat before they automatically flush, thus eliminating the possibility of an embarrassing dousing event.

Travel has been automated. Toll roads and bridges collect fees automatically thanks to the vehicles’ transponders. The Nexus system allows travelers who have been pre-screened to automatically bypass the scrutiny of the customs and immigration interrogators.

Aboard cruise ships and in fine hotels, towels and linen that are not hung up are automatically taken to be laundered. The end of the toilet paper is folded to a point automatically. The bed is made automatically in the morning, then prepared for sleep-time automatically. The waste paper baskets get emptied automatically.

The search engine your computer uses automatically records your interests and usage habits, then automatically presents you with tempting product and site links.

As I write this column in my laptop computer, it automatically counts  the number of words I’ve written, automatically alerts me to some of my errors. in grammar and spelling, and even automatically corrects a few of them. Periodically, my work is automatically saved, just in case a sudden power failure occurs.

Everything’s automatic, so what? No wonder the teenagers we are trying to bring up don’t automatically turn off the lights and radio when they leave their room, don’t automatically hang up the towel when they’ve taken a shower, don’t automatically put away their dishes after snacking, don’t automatically empty the mailbox when they get off the school bus, don’t automatically give you the note from their teacher, don’t automatically hold the door open for the person behind them, don’t automatically realize the sidewalk has to be shoveled after a snowfall.

When the ‘me-generation’ became adults, it’s no wonder they don’t return their shopping carts to the corrals. Just as they didn’t automatically colour between the lines in kindergarten, too many of them don’t park between the lines of the parking lots, automatically occupying one and a half parking spots. Awareness of others’ needs and rights isn’t learned automatically. It has to be taught.

Geographic location: Montreal, Florida

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