I remember when a car knew how to keep its mouth shut. The only thing that wasn’t essential to its actual mechanical functioning was a radio, which remained quiet until you decided to turn it on. In other words, you, the driver, were in the driver’s seat.
Now my car talks to me, sometimes with words, sometimes with symbols, telling me—me, the driver—how to drive. I really don’t need to start the day feeling like I’m traveling with my mother. Some other things I don’t need: to open the door and have my dashboard tell me the door is open. Or to see a little red arrow pointing to the side of my car where the fuel cap is. To automakers everywhere: Trust me to know that if the gas cap isn’t on one side of the car, it will be on the other. Really. I can do that.
As I drive, the screen in front of me displays how fast I’m going in big, clear numbers. Right next to it is a big, round speedometer with a needle that tells me … how fast I’m going. Please give my thanks to the Department of Redundancy Department.
On the other side of the speedometer is a tachometer, which measures my engine’s revolutions per minute (RPMs). Why do I need to know this? Ostensibly, because if I “rev” my engine too high it will cause damage. I don’t rev anything. I step on the gas to go, and I step on the brake to stop, and I expect the engine to do whatever revving is necessary to make that happen. I know RPM sounds impressive but for me it stands for Ridiculous Piece of Measurement.
Directly above the speedometer is something called an Eco Gauge, which tells me how I’m doing with fuel efficiency. If it goes to the left, I’m doing badly; to the right, and I’m being eco-friendly. I have no control over my fuel efficiency short of putting a sail on the roof, and I don’t appreciate being put on an emotional roller coaster where every trip has me feeling either like a leaking oil tanker or Greta Thunberg.
My car talks to me, sometimes with words, sometimes with symbols, telling me—me, the driver—how to drive.
I also have not one but two trip meters, so I can compare the mileage of Trip 1 with the mileage of Trip 2. I honestly, sincerely, genuinely do not know why this is valuable information. I’ve always had an extremely reliable measure of how long I’ve been driving—my back. If I can walk upright after taking two ibuprofen every four hours, I’ve gone about 300 miles. If, on the other hand, the ibuprofen has to be administered intravenously, I’ve foolishly gone beyond the limits of my physical endurance, and how that translates into physical distance doesn’t really matter now, does it? The same with the little warning light that indicates my brake pads are wearing down. I’ve always relied on the smell of burning rubber to give me that information, and it’s worked just fine. There’s even a little alert that tells me the car ahead of me has moved forward at a stop light, as if to say, “It’s green. Go!” Did I mention driving with my mother?
I do appreciate the yellow warning light on my side-view mirror when someone is in my blind spot. Great safety feature. Unfortunately, the light also goes on when someone is just passing me. When two cars are passing on either side, both mirrors start blinking like the instrument panel in a space capsule flashing Abort! Abort!—in which case I’m suddenly feeling very unsafe.
Finally, there’s the GPS, where I can see my progress on a map and hear directions in a pleasant female voice. The particular car I own gives you the option of changing that voice to someone more familiar, like a trusted friend or family member. One of the suggestions is—yup, you guessed it—your mother! You can even use your own voice. That would mean not knowing the location of a place and listening to yourself tell yourself how to get there. At that point I’m not in a car; I’m in Alice in Wonderland.
You can say I’m exaggerating but I know you’ve gotten in your car at least once, heard that annoying beep reminding you to buckle your seatbelt, and screamed, “Oh, shut up! I’m putting it on.” I know you have.
John Cadley is a former advertising copywriter, freelance writer and musician living in Fayetteville, New York.