Saturday, October 7, 2017

Quick Thoughts of Bacon Vol. 13

The other night I was driving over to the YMCA to pick up one of the kids. As I was nearing the corner of Harrison and East Avenues, I flicked on the turn signal to indicate to other drivers that I would be making a left. From the backseat, my seven-year old asked, quite innocently, “When you use the turn signal, how do you know which way to push the lever?” It’s a great question, and I had to stop to think about it.

I’ve been driving for nearly 28 years. I am always adamant about using my turn signals, even when changing lanes on the Thruway. Occasionally, I even turn on the signal in a parking lot as I prepare to enter a parking space. It’s just that automatic for me to use the signals. It is so automatic that I had to take a moment to think about which way the lever needs to go to turn left and right. It only took a second, but it did take a little bit of thought.

For all you drivers out there who have forgotten about what that little lever on the left side of your steering wheel is used for, here is a quick, basic tutorial. To indicate that you wish to turn left, that lever needs to be pushed into the down position. To activate the right signal, you simply have to place the lever in the up position. For ease of use, once you turn your steering wheel back to straight, the lever will automatically return to the neutral position. Well, unless you’re over 68 years old and you missed your turn eight miles ago. That’s a different story.

But that’s not the gist of this article. Instead, it is about how sometimes we do the same thing over and over until we really don’t even think about it anymore. Unless there is an accident or road work, how many people drive the same way to or from work everyday? For years? Is Tuesday taco night, or is Saturday always quiet time with your spouse? We end up very predictable. Even those of us who attempt to pride ourselves on being unpredictable end up in ruts that rival those wagon trails to Oregon that still remain after over a century.

Procedural memory is a part of long-term memory that allows us to “just do things.” This type of memory is very strong. And it’s a good thing. It allows us to play the piano, ride a bike, or climb the stairs. For some people, it allows them to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. I think we all know how hard that is sometimes. I’ve definitely had my moments. I’m sure most of you have, also.

We love routine. Change scares the hell out of us. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s perfectly fine to feel comfortable. How many of us have these routines that we barely even acknowledge anymore? Sometimes it takes an innocent question from a child to jolt us into remembering how, when, and why we do certain things. Sometimes science has the answers we were looking for. For some reason, a seven-year-old won’t fall for “It’s magic,” as an answer anymore.

Craig Bacon listens to the questions coming from seven-year-olds. Sometimes its great fodder for articles.