We’ll keep it boxed up

Last night, I got to ride in a Tesla for the first time. It’s been a running joke between us and Dave’s brother that I will someday win a literary prize big enough to buy him a Tesla (which, I invite this fate!), and as a result I always tacitly assumed that I liked Teslas, because they were fancy, fast, and new.

In fact, as soon as we got into the car, I realized it scared me very much. A Tesla, which can go 0-60 in 1 second (we got it to go 0-80 in about 2 seconds) is essentially a roller coaster overlaid onto ordinary city streets; if someone approaches a corner and expects you to accelerate normally, the results could be quite bad. Beyond the acceleration, though, a Tesla is also a Transformer: it can hide its door handles, it can steer autonomously on the highway, it can come find you, driverless, in a grocery store parking lot.

All of which is to say, I was keenly aware of the way we were putting our lives in the hands of new technology. It didn’t help that it was, for the first time in weeks, lightly raining, so the roads were slick; it did help that I trust Dave’s brother as a driver. But in general, the risk of early adoption is that you’ll lose some money, not your life. It gave me more sympathy for people who are afraid of the human costs of AI. (I am pro-machine consciousness, but wary of the human beings who would design it.)

Anyway. It has been a week for examining my relationship to the old and the new. Watching Notre Dame burn live on social media was deeply affecting—harrowing, even, because it was like watching a part of my own heart burn down. As a child, I thought everything I knew—every object, every person, every place—would last forever, from the cherry tree in the garden to the specific skyline of my hometown. As an adult, I’ve had to let go of this idea, for the most part. I’ve seen people I love die, moved out of my childhood home, had friends come and go in my life, as the world keeps turning. My body has changed. My priorities, too. But there were some concepts, some places and things, that seemed to exist outside my own ephemeral nature, and Notre Dame was one of them.

We were just there. It was the same as it had been when I was 18, which isn’t true of many things.

I’m glad that it will be rebuilt. I guess I don’t mind that Teslas exist, as long as they don’t kill me on a rainy road, the air full of petrichor.

It’s sunny now, but the wind is still full of water.