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Nothing But Net: E-fensive Driving

I haven’t been to a library in slightly more than three years. There are two reasons for my lapse in attendance. The first is: I hate reading books.

(“A writer who doesn’t read? What kind of journalist are you?” Well, I write a column about the Internet, so we’ve answered that question. But the real reason I’d rather watch grass grow than read a page of Catcher in the Rye is my father’s scare tactics he used to make me read as a child, which consisted of locking me in my bedroom for an hour each night after dinner until I had polished off a few chapters of whatever he’d chosen for me. Love that guy, though.)


The second is defensive driving. The idea behind defensive driving is a sound one—spend six hours in a class, get points off your license/money off your insurance/a traffic ticket dismissed. Once every three years, I get a notice in the mail reminding me it’s time to pack a paper bag lunch and hustle over to the Half Hollow Hills Library for the better part of a day.

But as with all things, defensive driving has evolved. Now, the class is offered over the Internet. This is an exemplary use of technology—take something that is inconvenient and a nuisance and make it stress-free and easily digestible. Thank you, cyber Gods.

Internet defensive driving (heretofore known as IDD) takes the familiar course and breaks it into four modules. Each module is broken down into a number of lessons, each one essentially a page from the book used in the library course. At the end of each module is a test. You’re given 30 days to complete the entire course, at your leisure. No six-hour block. No paper bag lunch. No library. Thank you, cyber Gods.

So, I surfed over to the site my auto insurance broker sent me and signed up. The first page is filled with simple registration questions and credit card info. The next page asks for my eye color, marital situation and the current status of my U.S. passport. Weird, but OK. The next page tells me to call a number and recite four series of two-digit integers into the phone. Umm, this is…for defensive driving?

Bizarre and borderline-invasive registration accomplished, now it’s time to learn how to drive safe. The instructions promise the course will take a full six hours, but I’ve got some tricks up my sleeve, namely to skip through each page as fast as my mouse can click. Unfortunately, that plan was foiled immediately—at the top of each lesson is a timer which prevents advancement until it reaches zero. I didn’t do the math, but if you added up all the time, it probably equals to around six hours. So I’m breaking even.

No, no, I’m not breaking even, because about 15 seconds later the SITE STOPPED LOADING. So now the course is going to take more than six hours. One of the main advantages promised by IDD—ease of use—had been ruined.

I continued along at a painstakingly slow pace until I finished a page and had to run to the bathroom. I clicked to the next one and started to get up, when I got a small pop-up window asking what my eye color was, with six choices and a timer ticking down from 10 seconds, appeared. What the hell is this? I answered hazel and it disappeared. A few pages later, another query: “What is your marital status?” This time I had five seconds to answer. Another advantage promised by IDD—convenience—gone.

Then, after a particularly insightful lesson on what to do when a traffic light turns yellow (Slow down? But if I hit the gas I can make it!), another pop-up. This one had 90 seconds, but also mandated I call a phone number. I scrambled to find my cell phone and punched it in. The automated woman on the other end told me to input my four-digit student ID number and then asked me to read a line of two-digit integers strikingly similar to the set from earlier. When I finished, she hung up on me.

This is CIA-level security…for defensive driving? I understand the need to be sure it’s me sitting at the desk, but chill the F out already. Nothing I encountered in my time with IDD made it a better alternative to the library variant. It took up more time, was infinitely more annoying and actually made me angry. When I logged back on to find the word “module,” I was immediately asked if I had a valid U.S. passport. I DIDN’T EVEN TRY TO DO ANYTHING.

There is technology that makes our lives easier, and technology that makes our lives more frustrating. Internet defensive driving is the latter.

Damn you, cyber Gods.

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I didn’t mention it in my column because it would discredit my argument a little, but I was in the middle of using Twitter when I got the decry to call and authenticate my voice. I don’t know why, but I felt like IDD caught me with my pants down. Talk about

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