Turn, turn, turn

“Siri, you useless WHORE!”

Forty minutes ago we’d been BFFs, at least, as much as a human and an infinite technological consciousness can be. She’d been chirping directions and providing useful warnings about impending exit ramps and I, for the first time, wasn’t driving with a crumpled set of directions clenched between my teeth.

Apple’s ability to create a product that can so intuitively change my life is both disconcerting and amazing – this is the closest I’ve ever come to feeling like one of the Jetsons. It saddens me just a bit that my niece will never totally appreciate that wistful sci-fi fantasy future perpetuated by cartoons and Disney’s Tommorowland. Robot maids somehow seem clunky now when with a few voice commands Siri can plan my day, respond to e-mail, search my arsenal of music, and post nonsense to Facebook.

How is it that we automatically trust this digital horizon? Even I relinquished my music to it, turning over a lifetime of songs to a piece of technology no bigger than a deck of cards. The weight of what that music represented alone could have warranted something more substantial – a garage, at least – but a reduction of clutter is half the point of going digital, isn’t it?

I suppose it depends on how you define clutter. My guy recently hung up his bass gear after a lifetime of performing. His concern was that I’d be disappointed; I feared he’d regret it. But when our eyes met at the decision there was only one prevailing emotion. Relief.

Music has the uncanny ability to consume. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But between me and my guy there are a solid 70 years of music combined. For two people engaged in the music scene on a semi-to-professional basis in one form or another, music isn’t so much about the act of creation or sharing, but in preparation.

Movies like Almost Famous give it such a magical sheen. The reality, of course, is that music, like anything else, is work. It’s dedicating hours to rehearsing. Loading and unloading unruly gear in the rain, heat, and wind. Trading life events for gigs. Battling less talented and untrained musicians for play time. Making your own place in a constantly changing and unforgiving scene.

It was never a question of whether that work is worth the effort. We just found we had less space in our lives to dedicate to it when family, travel, and shared adventure have so much greater priority. So while my guy snapped his bass case shut, I entrusted technology to manage the soundtrack to our lives.

And suddenly, we were happier. That lack of clutter enabled us to do the one thing left with music that we wanted – listen.

Now I see technology dangling a tantalizing new option in front of me like a bawdy carnival barker: Store all your books in one place! Read whatever you want wherever you are! Thousands of words at your fingertips!

It’s a good pitch. So much of my own writing is in digital format that the conversion of my physical library shouldn’t be traumatic. Yet I hesitate.

Where music became an unruly interloper, books remain an unobtrusive companion. There is no need to corral them into a Tron-like infinity when I take so much pleasure in their tactile experience. My sister, in all her information and library science graduate-degreed glory, would be appalled to learn that it wasn’t until the end of my senior year in college that I finally gave in to a digital research system. Something about those index cards satisfied more than the tips of my fingers.

My morbid romanticism in being a writer doesn’t help matters. It keeps me clinging to my reading and writing rituals tighter than I do my whiskey. They may be able to simulate the clicking of a typewriter on a digital keyboard, but they’ll never be able to replicate the experience of running your hands over a bound book, of cracking the spine and leaving fingerprints on the pages that mean the most.

The same can, and has, been said of a record store, of course. I guess I’m just more willing to sacrifice music to the medium than I am a legacy of words.

Still, I can’t help but distrust the entire system after discovering how swiftly and without warning iPhone’s Siri can transform from being my personal Rosie the Robot to HAL 9000.

“In 500 feet, make a u-turn.”

Her voice is confident, unflappable, like the aural manifestation of a Buckingham Palace guard. Siri’s digital navigation had gotten me within a few miles of my destination without fail, an unprecedented success. But a u-turn? From one three-lane roadway to another? She had to be kidding.

As Siri will tell you, however, she’s not very good at telling jokes. So I followed her instructions, darting wildly from one lane to the next, bouncing over a median and some decorative flora, and landing somewhere in between an oncoming bus and a snow plow.

Rosemont’s “entertainment district” is not especially easy to navigate for a good driver, let alone a white knuckled terror like me. Storefronts, bars, a casino, and other tourism destinations are buried off random stretches of one-way roads and byways that blow past you at Indy 500 speeds.

Siri’s satellite map recognized my desired destination and pegged it with a little red flag. My own car, marked with a blinking, moving circle, hovered directly on top of it. Yet Siri couldn’t reconcile the realization of my placement on the physical road versus her internal map and she began to lose her reserve.

“In 500 feet, make a u-turn.”

Terrific. Once again I plowed through traffic, wishing in vain that I had the foresight to consult an actual map instead of Siri’s misguided satellite imagery.

“Make a sharp right turn.”

All my turns are sharp, I don’t know how Siri expected this one to be any different. Perhaps I didn’t turn soon enough, or sharp enough, or maybe Siri is just a bumbling fuckwit, because instead of winding up on the restaurant’s drive, I was heading the wrong way down a one way taxi station. Not that I noticed this until I was nose to nose with a string of 20 cabs en route to the airport.

As I drove backwards down that stretch of road and navigated a backwards merge into oncoming speeding traffic, Siri, that useless whore, continued to twitter.

Technology did me no favors that night. And though I still consult with Siri on lesser matters like scheduling appointments and returning emails, I refuse to allow her any access to my books. Those you will have to pry out of my cold, dead hands.

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