My first car was a stick shift – or more correctly, it had a standard transmission. Our son will turn 16 this November, and we have already warned him that his first car will be a stick shift as well. Yes, they still make them; in fact, they are still in the majority in Europe and should be here. According to The Wall Street Journal, they’re enjoying a resurgence among younger driving enthusiasts.
Our son loves cars and is looking forward to the experience. He has already asked if we can purchase some ramps so he can change his own oil. I might consider it, although part of me thinks I should just let him get on his back and slither under the car…if we are going old-school, we might as well go all the way.
So why are we insisting his first car be a stick shift? Because driving a standard transmission car requires focus. All four limbs are engaged, leaving no ability whatsoever to text or surf social media. None of his friends will know how to operate the vehicle, so no worries about someone else driving his car without our permission. When he is driving, he will have to focus on driving. When was the last time you did that? Be honest.
We increasingly live in a world where everything is easier, yet people seem to be getting more anxious and depressed. Is there a connection?
I was telling a friend about my grand plan for my son, and he mentioned a friend of his who had a completely different idea. His friend had done the math and determined that it would be less expensive for his son to Uber everywhere than for him to drive a car. Obviously, there is the expense of the car itself, but for a teenager, it is the insurance that really gets you.
This is our collective mindset. What is faster, easier, cheaper, and more efficient? My friend’s friend is probably correct – it probably would be cheaper and more efficient for us to tell our son to Uber instead of driving. But is that really what I want for my son? In our effort to be more efficient, we sometimes forget that when it comes to relationships and well-being in life, what we really want is to be effective. I don’t mean to offend, but if either of my children ever sends me a selfie of them doing their own laundry (or any other simple life task) with #adulting attached to it, I will break down in tears knowing that I utterly failed them as a parent.
Self-respect and self-confidence come from actually being able to do things…real things. Talk to anyone who still does their own yard work, and they will tell you that there is this sense of accomplishment that comes from this simple task. It is strangely rewarding. I think it is because it takes focus. As simple as it may seem, there is a degree of attention required, and in the end, you have accomplished something you can see.
Today we seem busier than ever, yet nothing requires focus. Or maybe we are so busy that we can’t focus. We have taken all the work out of our work, and we wonder why we are anxious. It is like watching your kids play sports – it is far harder than playing yourself. When one is in the game she has no time to be nervous or anxious, but sitting in the stands – that’s where anxiety takes hold.
We keep making it easier to do things without effort and attention, and there have never been so many books about mindfulness…
Iron Capital recently looked into upgrading our accounting software. The vendor we use has gone to an online cloud version that is fully integrated with the bank. They excitedly told us that we would no longer have to input any transactions, it would all just feed from the bank. They seemed shocked when I asked: If we stop bookkeeping ourselves and just take what the bank says, then how will we know when the bank has made a mistake? In an effort to remove all the effort they didn’t make the job easier, they unthinkingly stopped doing their job.
We need to ask these questions. What should be the limits of technology? Are we really making our life better by increasingly becoming spectators as opposed to being in there doing the work? That is for each of us to answer. In the meantime, nothing you read from Iron Capital will be coming from ChatGPT, and our son (and in a few years, his sister) will be driving stick-shift cars. It may be more work, but that keeps us focused on the task at hand. At least that is my perspective.
Chuck Osborne, CFA