I bought a new car a couple of weeks ago, which should be a good thing. And in many ways, it is. The car handles well, gets very good gas mileage and is new enough that everything is still shiny and in good working order. I bought the exact same model as my old car because I believed it would make the adjustment to my new car smooth and easy. Sadly, that belief turned out to be completely naive.
True, my new car looks an awful lot like my old one. It’s not very big, it’s light grey, and has a sun roof, just like my old car. But there have been some big changes in the way they make cars in the past decade or so. The new vehicles may look like cars, but they function more like a cross between a computer and a helicopter parent.
My old car had a small screen tucked away on the dashboard that displayed the radio stations and doubled as a rear view monitor when I backed up. My new car has a much bigger screen that looms over the dashboard and is constantly demanding my attention, sending messages, displaying maps and even a little picture of whoever happens to be singing on the radio. Why anyone thought that having a driver looking at a screen on the dashboard when they’re supposed to be keeping their eyes on the road is an improvement, don’t ask me.
I try to ignore my screen as much as possible, but it’s as persistent as a whiny child. When I first started the car, a notice popped up saying that the my car was capable of sending information about my activities to the automaker, for use in their research and development department, and also informed me that there may be a small fee for this service. I was given the choice to accept or decline, and since I saw no reason why I should pay for the privilege of being spied on, I declined. That must have made it mad, because now every time I start the car, I get a notice reminding me that I declined and promising dire consequences due to my poor choice.
My new car also talks to me. Frequently and repetitively. At first I thought I was imagining the soft voice that I heard sometimes over the music from the radio. But the voice got louder, and also figured out how to make the music stop while it was speaking. So now when I’m driving along, minding my own business, I’ll suddenly be informed that I’m approaching a highway that has partial lane closures due to construction. (Which makes me wonder just exactly how my car knew I was planning to get on the highway.)
I’m not sure exactly where all this will end. Yesterday, while I was driving a half-mile to the grocery store, I got three different alerts about a flash flood warning thirty-two miles away. Who knows what other kinds of warnings my car is going to give me? If I’m pulling into the drive through of the local Dairy Queen, am I going to hear “Ice cream has a lot of calories and your jeans are getting a bit tight?” Or if I’m headed to the mall will my car tell me, “It’s been three days since you’ve visited your mother. Forget the mall and drive to her house instead?”
I’m not usually one to long for the “good old days,” but I have admit that I really miss the time when the most we expected out of a new car was safe and reliable transportation. I mean, who really wants a car whose main purpose seems to be proving that it’s smarter than it’s driver?