Manual transmissions, mindfulness, and involvement in living

 

It’s been almost a month that I’ve been back.

 

After about 6 1/2 years of enduring and dissolving into the mentally sluggish, unthinking and disconnected automatic transmission driving experience, I’m finally back in a manual transmission ride. It’s been a long time. I missed stick shift but didn’t realize just how much until I began driving it again about 3 weeks ago. This is what happens. You become complacent and unmindful after years of driving an automatic transmission. The insidious nature of automatic transmission distances you from your car, from your driving…it is a shield from involvement. It makes you lazy and lets get by without concentrating on your driving so you can divide your attention between the cell phone, that Chinese take-out or the caramel macchiato. See, this is what we’ve become. A race of half-involved, half-thinking lowlife multi-taskers unable to put our complete attentions to things.

 

Driving a manual transmission draws you into a harmonious co-existence with the workings of your car while raising your comprehension of the road. Manual transmission allows a human/machine synergy to meld into place. You are performing a mechanical function which science has long made extinct. Manual transmission drivers are sputtering their last collective breath with our latest driving generations. In 1985, manual transmissions equipped about 22% of all new vehicles. The number in 2012 is estimated to be around 6%. Imagine voluntarily choosing to do something that places you in a population segment represented by only 6% of people? Furthermore, imagine this “thing” you willingly do is avoided by most people like the plague, so much so that people actually pay a little more to avoid?

 

Don’t know about them. Manual transmission driving is great. Especially since modern manual gearboxes are built so well now; the shifter is precise and buttery smooth. The clutch pedal is light and the immersion you experience in the driving experience is spellbinding. I’ve heard some rumors that manual transmission cars are in fewer accidents than automatic transmission cars, per mile, which is an important standardizing frame of reference (important when we are comparing 2 variables separated by a prevalence of 90-10). I can’t find any back-up for this mythological NHTSA study, but aside from the usual reasons many might make for such a statistical relationship, the main reason why a manual transmission driver is less accident-prone is simply because he (or she) is deeply involved in the driving process. They are paying attention and mindful. Automatic transmission saps your mind of awareness and removes you from the road. Not paying attention to the cars shifting allows you to ignore the engine, the brakes, the steering…don’t trivialize the power of a car’s shifting in the feedback it offers to the smooth operation of a motor vehicle.

 

This is why people don’t like stick shift. People don’t like the added burden of driving which frankly, should be a burden. Driving 3,000 pounds of steel should not be effortless, but in this day and age of space technology filtering down to our driving experience, people seek to be as isolated from the driving experience as possible. I’ll take a stick shift any day! The ability to slow a car down without brakes or to literally nub it into a gliding curve by releasing the clutch slowly is a sensation you don’t feel in an automatic. With a manual transmission, you are part of the driving experience, not a disconnected byproduct, but the foible of modernity is the sense of disconnectedness which we seek and that we vainly assume elevates us to some lofty level of superhumanness, but only turns us cold and dead.

 

People are not only seeking estrangement from the act of driving a car, they want to be insulated from all sorts of unpleasant experiences and science is seeing to it that this is possible as long as there is a buck to be made. Driving a manual transmission is to truly “enjoy the ride.” A manual transmission keeps your perspective healthy. The car predominates over you, which is how things should be. An automatic transmission deludes you into believing that you triumph over the car, which is deadly.