Driving Our New Computer (Part 1)
I love computers. After all, I couldn’t practice my profession without them. I write on one seven days (and far too many nights) a week. My wife and I are able to see and talk with our kids and grandkids thousands of miles away thanks to computers. The phone in my pocket is an incredibly versatile computer. Computers are an integral part of so much of contemporary daily life, I would be the first person in the choir loft to sing the praises of programming and profess the miracle of microchips.
I’m just not sure I want to drive one.
I say this because – if you remember – early last summer my wife and I sold her lumbering, limping beast of an SUV and bought our first new, off-the-lot car in over 10 years. We got something smaller, lighter, more nimble and fun to drive. We got something with a luxurious interior and seemingly every bell and whistle available. As such, we drove home what is essentially a computer with wheels. Driving has never been so frustrating.
For example, a week or so ago, we headed out for a date night at the movies in Pasadena. I decided to bring along a CD that we’d recently bought. I’ll spare you the embarrassing details, but from the time we backed out of our garage in La Crescenta until we pulled into the garage at the Paseo in Old Towne, Pasadena, these two technologically savvy adults could not figure out which buttons to push, which dials to turn, which digital deity to invoke in order to simply listen to a flippin’ CD in a car we’ve owned for six months! I swear, the instrument panels on a space shuttle have to be more intuitive and less complicated than the center console in our new car.
And that’s just the beginning of my frustrations. With all of the infrared and sonar-based sensors embedded in the body of our car, it beeps and buzzes and brrrrrrs and bongs and otherwise makes annoying noises at us if even so much as a leaf drifts in front of us as we’re backing out or pulling into a parking space. It sounds like the inside of a pinball machine if someone in the car doesn’t have their seatbelt buckled, if you get too close to the outside of whatever lane you’re in, if your fuel level is low, if your fuel consumption is excessive, if you’re driving distracted, if you have a bad attitude or even poor posture.
Okay, those last two might not be part of the car’s programing, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all.
Worse than that, our new car has a “safety” feature that automatically slams on the massive rotors on the antilock brakes if you’re driving under 20 mph, don’t have your foot on the brake pedal and the car senses an object in your path. I’m not kidding. The car actually stops itself – rather violently, in fact – without you, the driver, doing a thing. Now, in theory this might be a good idea. But when the car’s array of forward-looking sensors determines that our still-retracting roll-up garage door is actually a person in danger of being run over and bring the car to a sudden and immediate stop while we’re still pulling into our garage, it’s not a fun experience. I’m just thankful that one of the many air bags embedded in God-only-knows-how-many-places throughout the leather-clad interior (with contrasting hand-stitching, don’tcha know!) of the car didn’t deploy to save us from certain bodily harm.
Don’t get me wrong; overall this new car of ours is a thrill to drive. And yet, I can’t help but long for the days when, to get fresh air for example, you simply pushed a lever toward a setting labeled “Vent” and voila! outside air! With our new car, well, I’ll tell you about that next week.
I’ll see you ‘round town.