As with Face­book, re­sis­tance to e-scoot­ers is fu­tile

San Antonio Express-News - - METRO - BRIAN CHASNOFF bchas­noff@ex­

If I might amend a fa­mil­iar def­i­ni­tion of insanity — that is, do­ing the same thing over and over again and ex­pect­ing a dif­fer­ent re­sult — to some­thing more tai­lored to our cur­rent state of af­fairs, it would be this: fall­ing vi­o­lently off an elec­tric scooter at near-full speed, then con­tin­u­ing to use the con­trap­tion on a reg­u­lar ba­sis.

In that case, I might be crazy. Or maybe the brave new world of tech, with all its at­ten­dant risks (read: crash­ing onto the pave­ment, sur­ren­der­ing our pri­vacy), is so ir­re­sistible, it’s now in­escapable.

The City Coun­cil seems to think so. This week, coun­cil used a so-called soft touch — an evo­lu­tion from how it once dealt roughly with ride-shar­ing ser­vices — in adopt­ing a six-month pi­lot pro­gram reg­u­lat­ing dock­less ve­hi­cles: the com­pa­nies that own them and the peo­ple who use them.

That would in­clude me, de­spite my tum­ble.

To make an em­bar­rass­ing story short, I had booked a ho­tel room near the Univer­sity of Texas at Austin last month for the Texas Tri­bune Fes­ti­val, an an­nual con­fab of po­lit­i­cal junkies, when I re­al­ized the event had moved from its usual lo­ca­tion near the univer­sity to the down­town area.

“No prob­lem,” I thought. “I’ll zip back and forth on a Lime,” a green per­mu­ta­tion of those in­fer­nal e-scoot­ers that ma­te­ri­al­ized this year in me­trop­o­lises across the coun­try.

My strat­egy worked all week­end — un­til I took a short­cut through a gas sta­tion at 18 mph, failed to no­tice a dip in the ground and found my­self no longer zoom­ing through space but sep­a­rated from my e-scooter and sprawl­ing to­ward terra firma. I sur­vived with just a few scrapes, but the ex­pe­ri­ence was so jar­ring that I im­me­di­ately swore off e-scoot­ers for the rest of eter­nity.

A week and a half later, I was back on one, cruis­ing con­ve­niently from the news­room to the Bexar County Court­house to save time.

I was on dead­line. You can’t ex­pect me to walk when I’m on dead­line, can you? Answer: Of course you can. Be­fore e-scoot­ers ap­peared out of nowhere, I was con­tent to walk a mile from the news­room to the court­house and back, even on dead­line.

Now that e-scoot­ers are ubiq­ui­tous, though, why should I?

That’s the ge­nius of savvy tech star­tups. The most suc­cess­ful — think Face­book — fill a need you never knew you had, then make for­go­ing them nearly un­think­able.

As a jour­nal­ist, why should I go to the trou­ble of track­ing down a source’s phone num­ber when ev­ery­one and (lit­er­ally) their mother is now on Face­book, and I could just reach them on­line? The so­cial net­work has em­bed­ded it­self into our daily lives now to such an ex­tent that it feels like ba­sic in­fra­struc­ture.

The risks are ob­vi­ous. On Fri­day, Face­book ac­knowl­edged that an at­tack on its com­puter sys­tems ex­posed the per­sonal in­for­ma­tion of 30 mil­lion users, the big­gest breach in the net­work’s 14-year his­tory.

Of course, even in the ab­sence of hacks, pri­vacy on the so­cial net­work is an il­lu­sion. As John Lan­caster wrote last year in the Lon­don Re­view of Books, Face­book is ac­tu­ally in the “sur­veil­lance” busi­ness: “What Face­book does is watch you, and then use what it knows about you and your be­hav­ior to sell ads.”

We know this, yet we re­main on Face­book — much as my in­juries hadn’t quite healed as I cruised to the court­house on an­other e-scooter. Insanity?

Is there such a thing as mit­i­gated insanity?

To limit my ex­po­sure on Face­book, not to men­tion try to dodge bots and trolls, I deleted the app from my smart­phone. This has sig­nif­i­cantly re­duced my time spent on the so­cial net­work — to the point where I’m barely a pres­ence there, tak­ing ad­van­tage mostly of its con­nec­tiv­ity from my desk­top.

In other words, I use Face­book and try not to let it use me.

Like­wise, every time I step onto an e-scooter, I’m aware of the risk that I might crash and hurt my­self — or worse. I could mit­i­gate the risk, though, by wear­ing a hel­met or, God for­bid, not take short­cuts through gas sta­tions at break­neck speed.

Coun­cil made it clear this week it won’t force me to do any of th­ese things. Af­ter the up­roar that erupted from an over-reg­u­la­tion of ride-shar­ing ser­vices, our lead­ers likely re­al­ize that re­sis­tance is fu­tile, es­pe­cially when new tech­nolo­gies of­fer sorely needed so­lu­tions. (Coun­cil did ban e-scoot­ers from streets where the speed limit ex­ceeds 35 mph: a no-brainer.)

As tech digs its dig­i­tal claws into the fu­ture— giv­ing us free­doms even as it takes our pri­vacy, cre­at­ing new vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties along­side new so­lu­tions — the best de­fense might be to ac­cept the insanity with a level head.

Josie Nor­ris / Staff pho­tog­ra­pher

Marty Lind crosses Com­merce Street down­town on an elec­tric scooter July 1. City Coun­cil on Thurs­day ap­proved a six-month pi­lot pro­gram reg­u­lat­ing the elec­tric ve­hi­cles.

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