Look out! The Segway is coming!

Joe Lavin's Humor Column

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Look out! The Segway is coming!

January 24, 2003

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I'm thinking of buying myself a Segway Human Transporter. Well, actually, the Segway is now selling at Amazon for $4,950, so I'm really thinking more about someone else buying me a Segway. If by chance you have a spare $4,950 and would like to buy me a Christmas present, I've conveniently placed the Segway on my Amazon wish list. There's no need to thank me.

For those who have somehow avoided its hype, the Segway is basically a magic scooter. Step on one, and it will take you wherever you want to go at speeds up to twelve miles an hour. Its self-stabilizing technology makes it almost impossible to tip over while riding on pavement. It chooses direction and speed just by the way you lean your body, so there's no need to steer either. Lean forward, and it'll move forward. Lean back, and it'll slow down. Flip off some pedestrians while yelling, "See ya later, suckers!" and it'll speed up again. It's a smart scooter, you see. Sure, you'll look like a dork riding one, but, hey, you'll be going places.

Some friends have suggested that I may well be the target audience for the Segway. I live in a city. I don't own a car. I walk about twenty minutes to and from work each day. And, well, I probably already look like a dork much of the time, so a little extra dorkiness won't matter.

Still, I have my doubts. For example, if a Segway can sense where I really want to go just by the way I lean my body, how exactly will I get to work in the morning?

"Sorry, I didn't make it in yesterday. I got on my Segway, but I guess I was still leaning towards my bed, so I never really got anywhere."

I just hope the Segway can't read my body language, or I will never get anywhere. Then again, perhaps that could be part of their marketing plan. Buy a Segway, and let your subconscious steer you. With a Segway, who knows where you'll end up? The beach? The ballpark? Or maybe just in your kitchen doing doughnuts.

I suppose I would eventually get the hang of it, but I still worry. I'm easily distracted, and I'm not sure I like the idea of a machine that will so eagerly follow my every whim. What if I turn to look at something as I ride it? Will the Segway make an abrupt turn? That first time I glide past an attractive woman will be particularly embarrassing. I'll turn my head to check her out ever so subtly, the Segway will notice that I'm leaning towards her, and the next thing I know there will be a horrible accident.

"Sorry for running you over there. My, er, Segway got out of control. Say, after you get back from the emergency room, would you like to get a cup of coffee?"

And with a populace already labeled obese, do we really need to further eliminate walking? I can see it now. "Oh, I love my Segway. I use it every day to ride to the gym. It's so convenient. Now, I never have to walk."

I'm also not sure what we're supposed to do with a Segway once we get where we're going. Somehow, I don't think I'll be leaving my $4,950 magic scooter locked to some bike rack, but at eighty-three pounds, it's not exactly the type of thing you'll want to lug around. Then again, with all that exercise we will be losing, lugging it around may be just the kind of workout we'll need.

Perhaps most important is the safety question. Already, the San Francisco city council has voted to ban them from sidewalks, and other cities may follow. Sure, the Segway may be sturdy enough so that its driver won't have to worry about tumbling over, but really how safe is it to have someone tooling along the sidewalk at twelve miles per hour? Imagine someone zipping along on a Segway, with one hand on a cell phone, the other hand working a Palm Pilot, and leaning forward all the way. I can see the future, and I think it's about to run me over.

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