Don Stratton: When technology fails, and so do we

I am basically a Luddite who was dragged, somewhat unwillingly, into the world of modern technology. I only did it out of necessity, and now technology has rapidly become almost impossible to live without. I recently found out the hard way that when technology fails, our own mistakes can quickly exacerbate the situation.

It all started on Sunday afternoon, when I was going to take my wife to choir practice. I’m not currently singing in the choir, so I decided to drop her off and then go gas her car. The driver’s seat, which reads the key fob and adjusts itself automatically to our preferred seat position — I’m a foot taller than her — was already in place for me.

I dropped her off at church and drove to Findlay Road to buy gas. I pulled up to the pump, got out and immediately was confronted by a technology failure. The pump screen said, “Error,” and it would not take my credit card. I got back into the car to drive to another pump, and nothing happened. It would not start, and the display screen showed the disturbing statement, “No key detected.”

I immediately realized that I had left my key fob laying on a shelf in the house. The car had continued to run even after my wife had exited it with the fob in her purse.

So, at that point, I recognized two failures: I had forgotten my key fob, and the car seat had failed to adjust to the position for her fob. If it had worked properly, my 6-foot-4-inch frame would have been pinned against the steering wheel —it has happened before — and frantically reaching to find a button on the door. Obviously, I would have known immediately that I didn’t have my fob.

So, there I sat, stranded miles from either home or church; my wife’s in choir practice with her phone turned off. So, I called my daughter, and my first words were, “I need help.” At that point, I heard a chilling double beep, indicating a third technology failure: My daughter’s phone had just gone dead. I could not call her, and vice versa. With no other option left, I called the church. The pastor answered, and he immediately offered to get my wife’s key fob and bring it to me.

One problem solved, but now there’s another. My daughter only knows that I need help, but neither why nor where. I’m sure she’s thinking I probably am at least having a heart attack, and she is probably panicking. Sure enough, in about half the time it should have taken for her to drive to my house, my doorbell camera rings on my phone, and I check it just in time to see the front storm door closing. She is now in the house, frantically looking for me.

At this point, two more human errors occurred. I didn’t think to call the house, where she would have answered the phone, and she didn’t think to pick up a house landline phone and call me. She decides to go to a friend’s house to call. The doorbell camera dings again, and I can see her car pulling away.

So, I sit and wait. In a few minutes, my phone rings, and the screen says, “No Caller ID.” It’s my daughter, about to go out of her mind at this point. I tell her that everything’s fine, explain the situation, and she calms down — slightly. Shortly thereafter, the pastor arrives with the fob, I get back to the church, and all is well. Almost.

Hours later while I’m trying to get to sleep, another human error suddenly dawned on me. When my wife exited the car, its technology had warned me, with a double beep of the horn, that the fob was no longer in the car. I remembered hearing it and wondering what it meant. Now I know.

The principal lesson I learned from this is that you must be at least as smart as the car in order for everything to go well. In my case, I guess that just isn’t going to happen.

Don Stratton is a retired inspector for the Lima Police Department. His column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Lima News editorial board or AIM Media, owner of The Lima News.