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Silver Threads: Letting technology take the wheel

Bettye Anding

Bettye Anding

In recent months I’ve gotten a couple of technological surprises, which probably won’t amaze any of you. I’d presented one of my grandsons with a belated Christmas check and uneasily watched him fold and poke it under the elastic waistband in the back of his gym shorts. When I next looked, it was gone. But instead of losing it, he had — he told me — taken a picture of the check with his iPhone and deposited it in his bank. I’d had no idea that people do that.

The second surprise came as my daughter and I were dining in a Japanese restaurant. She phoned her younger son and invited him to join us. Instead, he asked for a take-out, whereupon she photographed the menu with her phone and sent it to him.

Oh, of course I knew you could do things like that with a phone, although the only “use” I’ve made of the camera on mine is to accidentally take a photo of my bare feet resting on a hassock in front of my easy chair.

But enough of cellular magic. I’ve lately been wondering whether more magic will make it possible for me to be able to hop in a car that’s my own and go out to River Ridge to visit friends, to City Park to see a new exhibit at NOMA, or even just over the bridge to the Quarter for beignets. Shoot, I might even decide to go about eight or nine hours northeast to check out one of my favorite families in Chattanooga, or head northwest to Shreveport and make a left turn to Dallas for a reunion with cousins.

I was grounded by my husband about two years ago after backing my van into the mailbox at the right curbside corner of our driveway. I accepted the fact that — due to dysfunctions that beset some of us seniors — the seat behind the steering wheel was mine no longer and gave my vehicle to a needy grandchild.

Now I’m reading about driverless cars and wondering whether they’ll put some of the elderly on the road again. I can hear you cringe. But surely those who are middle-aged now will understand the technology and be able to cope with transportation that requires only minimal action from the “driver.”

Me, I couldn’t do some of the things my daughter does now in her almost new, big Toyota — GPS programming, hooking up her phone to come over an inside speaker, the back-up camera (I’d forget I even had one), the locking system.

There’s so much going on with cars, phones, tablets, PCs, even washing machines! that yours truly doesn’t use or know about because she’s had no opportunity to learn — or, more often, isn’t interested. My husband was the one in our relationship who embraced the new stuff. Our first automatic dishwasher was acquired in 1960 over my mild objections: How much effort does it take to wash up after a couple and their baby son? Fifteen years later we had begun giving dinner parties with six or eight guests and had installed two of them.

This world today reminds me of the one we saw in the TV show “The Jetsons” back in the ‘60s. This cartoon family lived in a futuristic utopia of elaborate robotic contraptions, household and transportation technology, holograms and whimsical inventions. The sit-com originally aired in primetime from September 1962 to September 1963, then later on syndicated TV in September 1967 and with new episodes from 1985 to 1988. Interestingly, it debuted as the first program broadcast in color on ABC-TV. And you thought black-and-white TV was something from the Stone Age.

This world is now full of things that none of the Jetson writers imagined, but we need even more. My wishes are for the following:
— little robots that scoot around picking up clothes from beds, chairs and floors, scan to determine whether they require laundering, and hang them up or put them in the clothes hamper.
— kitchen cabinets that are dishwashers, so you never have to unload them.
— beds that never require making up. You invent the technology.
—bathrooms that clean themselves with heated surfaces and sprays that emerge from the walls.
— disposals that will dispose of anything. You won’t need a garbage can except for huuuge things.

And as for driverless motoring, I’d prefer a cute chauffeur. One who looks a lot like Poldark in the latest installment of that series.

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Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at [email protected]