I’m currently driving my third AMC-era Jeep and my fifth four-wheel-drive vehicle. I am not a lumberjack or a farmer. I have worked in construction and real estate development, though 4WD was never necessary for my job.
If anything, 4WD is (at least for me) more of a liability than an asset. It’s certainly more expensive to maintain. Mileage is horrible as well; My 1984 Jeep CJ-8 Scrambler gets 11 miles to the gallon.
But the biggest problem with 4WD is a hidden problem: 4WD fosters foolishness, rashness, negligence, and overconfidence. It beckons you to disregard normal limits. It allows you to go so deep into the woods that when you get stuck (and you will inevitably get stuck), you’re well beyond help.
Seems to me like a lot of technologies, when abused, have this same sort of consequence. I don’t think there’s a name for this, so I’m giving it one: The 4WD Effect. The 4WD Effect occurs when overuse of or over-reliance on a technology causes the very problem that the technology was designed to solve.
4WD exists to help people avoid getting stuck. A negligent driver, lulled into confidence by his Jeep’s abilities, finds himself stuck so far back in the woods that no tow truck can reach him.
High resolution digital photography exists to help people preserve moments. A casual photographer seeks to preserve so many 4MB moments on her computer (few of which she had any intention of ever printing at their maximum resolution) that the machine inevitably and suddenly crashes, destroying all the memories she was trying to save.
Navigation systems exist to help people find their way. After months of use, I lose the ability to find my way around without my phone, stop carrying an old-school printed map, and when I find myself unexpectedly out of cell range, I become lost.
How does one avoid becoming a victim of the 4WD Effect? Humility seems like the only meaningful hedge.