Tesla recently unveiled its new “autopilot” feature. Right now it isn’t quite as “automatic” as the name suggests, but the cars can, with some impressive accuracy, keep the car in its own lane, parallel park, and even safely change lanes while on the move. It’s the future! But perhaps most impressive is its ability to brake without driver input when it senses danger, as happened in this video:
The driver was letting the car “take the wheel” so to speak, and was headed down a dark road on a rainy night. Before he could even react, another car cut in front of him. But the “autopilot” feature saved them both.
This kind of technology is very exciting, and, with the continuing development of self-driving cars, things are only getting more and more exciting, and, importantly, more safe.
As a strange side-note, it also opens the door to a slightly more “Zion” lifestyle than we’ve been able to manage for over a century.
My first encounter with Zion
The first time the idea of “Zion” (meaning a community where the members share all things “equally” for mutual benefit) really hit home with me was when an institute teacher told me the story of his neighbor in the suburbs when he lived somewhere in the Midwest.
This neighbor had a tool shed that was well stocked. It included a wide variety of hand tools, power tools, and even a lawnmower and yard equipment. Apparently, the neighbor would walk around the street to each house on the block and personally invite each household to come to his house, walk around back to the shed, and borrow whatever they needed whenever they needed it.
For the most part it worked fine. Tools came and went. Once in a while a tool would disappear for a long time and so it would be replaced. When asked what he felt about this, the neighbor would shrug with a smile and say “I guess they must have needed it more than I.”
One day, the neighbor got a pickup truck and parked it in his driveway. Once again he made the rounds to all the houses on the block. “If you ever need a truck for any reason, feel free to use mine. The keys are under the mat.”
By the time my institute teacher had moved away, the truck was still there, and still got frequent use by members of the community, though the teacher admitted to me that he could not imagine ever being so generous with his own property.
The question about lawnmowers
After relating this story, the teacher asked me, “How many lawn mowers do you need on a block of 10 houses?”
“Uh…” I said smartly.
“Okay, look at it this way,” he said. “If there are 10 houses each with a lawn, how many lawn mowers do you think there are on that block?
“Well,” I considered it for a moment, “probably 9 or 10?”
The teacher nodded. “That would be pretty normal. Most people just go buy a lawnmower as a part of how they take care of their home. How much does a lawnmower cost?” he asked.
“I don’t know, 200 bucks?”
“Okay, so let’s say there’s two thousand dollars of lawn mower on that block. Now let’s look at this scripture we’re studying today.”
27 And they did impart of their substance, every man according to that which he had, to the poor, and the needy, and the sick, and the afflicted; and they did not wear costly apparel, yet they were neat and comely.
28 And thus they did establish the affairs of the church; and thus they began to have continual peace again, notwithstanding all their persecutions.
29 And now, because of the steadiness of the church they began to be exceedingly rich, having abundance of all things whatsoever they stood in need—an abundance of flocks and herds, and fatlings of every kind, and also abundance of grain, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious things, and abundance of silk and fine-twined linen, and all manner of good homely cloth.
30 And thus, in their prosperous circumstances, they did not send away any who were naked, or that were hungry, or that were athirst, or that were sick, or that had not been nourished; and they did not set their hearts upon riches; therefore they were liberal to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, whether out of the church or in the church, having no respect to persons as to those who stood in need.
31 And thus they did prosper and become far more wealthy than those who did not belong to their church.
“How is it that sharing their property led to greater wealth for members of the church?” my teacher asked me.
I didn’t get it, but he explained, “Or, to put it another way, how many lawn mowers do 10 houses really need?”
“Oh,” I said, and it started to make sense. “Oh, I guess just a couple would be enough to mow those lawns.”
“Right,” he said. “So if they decided to buy and share a couple lawn mowers, how much money goes back in their pockets? Around 1600 dollars?”
I nodded. This was pretty neat.
“Now imagine it was cars,” he said. “How many cars are on that block of 10 houses do you think?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe one or two for each house.”
“So let’s say it’s only one and a half for each house, and each car costs 5000 dollars. That’s 75,000 dollars on that block spent on cars. But how many cars do those houses need?”
I thought he was getting silly. Was he really suggesting the people on this imaginary block reduce their number of cars by even a quarter? Surely it would be impossible. After all, you can’t really reduce the number of cars since cars go with you wherever you go, right? I mean, maybe you could have one or two people carpool, but that’s it. Right?
But now we’re seeing something… silly.
Something wonderfully beyond silly.
Imagine arriving at your work in your sensibly affordable pre-owned 2025 self-driving vehicle. You had enjoyed reading the morning news on the car dashboard as it drove you to work with no input required from you. Now, as you settle in at your desk, an alert pops up on your phone. It’s Uber. Somebody needs a ride to the airport.
With a few button taps you accept the job and send your car to go pick up the fare and deliver him to the airport while you continue working at your desk.
Or maybe it’s not Uber. Maybe it’s your neighbor wondering if she can get a lift to the grocery store. Maybe it’s the missionaries wondering if you can drop them off at their zone meeting this afternoon. Perhaps you’re not willing to risk your fancy car with strangers on apps like Uber and Lyft, but somebody you know already? You’d consider it, right? If all it took was a few button presses to send the car on its way to a friend?
We are not far from this.
Imagine being one of several self-driving-car owners on your street, and being able to be safer than simply sticking the keys under the mat, but still offering free rides to enough people to allow your community to save a few thousand dollars on transportation costs.
Technology is opening the way towards greater individual generosity on our parts, and perhaps bringing us one step closer to Zion.