Am I Driving My Car, or Is It Driving Me?

This post is more or less a Luddite’s rant about new technology. So here goes. 🙂 I was forced to get a new car when my old one tragically passed away in an accident this past June. I’ve always been nervous about driving a new car or someone else’s car because… what if I crash it? What if I can’t adjust the seat properly? Am I responsible enough to have a brand new car? Why are you trusting me to drive your car? My name isn’t on your insurance! (And so on and so forth.)

Anyway, I got a Chevrolet Cruze and the best things about it are that it (a) gets really good gas mileage, (2) is my favorite color, and (3) has an antenna that reminds me of a fish’s fin. The worst thing about it is that it’s more or less a computer on wheels, and even the base model (which I have) has a ton of unnecessary features. The car has its own WiFi, an “infotainment” system, power windows (my old car had manual roll-up windows, which I liked because it was old-school), a backup camera, Bluetooth (so you can connect your cell phone to your car and make calls or look up stuff on YouTube), a USB port instead of a CD player (so now I have to rip all of my gazillion CDs onto a flash drive… *sigh*), and an automatic stop feature that supposedly saves gas. (When you press the brake, the car shuts off. It’s really weird.) The car would have had SiriusXM radio, but I opted out of it.

The car also came with a three-month trial of OnStar, which I let expire. Less than a day after the expiration date, a sales representative called me up to convince me to re-enroll in the service. Apparently, if you ever get in an accident, the car will automatically use OnStar to call emergency services. The sales representative made it seem like I would get in a horrendous accident and no one would be around to help me if I didn’t have OnStar. Well, that might be true if I was driving in the middle of nowhere or in the middle of the night when nobody’s around, but that doesn’t often happen. I wondered what people did before the onset of all this new technology. I thought about my old car, which had hardly any technological features. After I got in the accident back in June, the emergency services all showed up immediately. No OnStar needed. The only thing OnStar is really good for is the navigation system, but again… what did people do before GPS? I think it was called a map, and I think it was printed on something called paper.

Now about that “infotainment” system… I find it hilarious that as soon as you turn the radio on, a pop-up message appears on the screen and tells you that pop-up messages might distract you while you’re driving. That’s one of the dangers of connecting your phone to your car via BlueTooth: text messages from your phone appear on your car’s screen and absolutely could be a distraction while driving. So I resisted connecting my phone to my car, mostly because I don’t like talking on the phone while driving anyway. Some cars (I think mostly minivans) even have little TVs in the backs of the seats, which are meant to entertain children but really end up distracting the people who are driving behind the vehicle with the built-in TVs. When I was a kid, I listened to books on tape when I was in the car. Or I brought a stuffed animal (or five million Beanie Babies). Maybe those simple things aren’t good enough for kids these days.

There is also a creepy vibe behind the technology. When I had the free trial of OnStar, the car would send me a diagnostics report every month that told me how good a driver I had been. Somehow it calculated my driving score by keeping records of how hard I pressed the brakes, how quickly I accelerated, and what times of the day I drove. I sometimes wonder if the car had secretly recorded all the times when I started to sing out loud (and off-key) to my favorite songs or ranted about the other crazy drivers all around me. So I live in fear that if I ever commit a crime, the car might be able to go to court and testify against me. However, that’s not to totally reject all the computerized features. I like when the car tells me it needs an oil change, one of the tires needs air, or how many miles it can go before it needs gas again. The backup camera is also extremely useful, especially for me because I hate backing out of spaces. (I think they are making the backup camera a mandatory feature on all cars sometime in the near future.)

The dilemma with all this new technology is this: Do you allow it into your life for safety’s sake and the sheer convenience, or do you shut it out of your life to maintain your privacy and focus? The whole thing makes me think of a science fiction novel in which cars come to life and take over the world (sort of like Christine or Transformers but much more sinister), which gave me an awesome idea for a future NaNoWriMo story, but that’s a separate post.

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Is this a friendly face, or an evil grin that’s plotting mischief? Only the auto makers know… or do they?

7 thoughts on “Am I Driving My Car, or Is It Driving Me?

  1. Every one of these technological “advances” I resist at first and then they become so omni-present, they are impossible to avoid. Go ahead and try to find a new car that has roll-up windows. I dare you to try. Some of the technology is great and I have a suggestion for you to avoid having to burn all of your CDs onto a USB. Pay $10 a month for Spotify and you can listen to pretty much anything you want on any device you want.

    But so much of it is a waste and a distraction … when you’re supposed to be driving.

    I dread the days of self-driving cars.

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    1. The base model of the 2017 Chevy Sonic has roll-up windows. The only reason I didn’t get that one is because the Cruze got better gas mileage.
      Spotify would be nice. I listen to it all the time while doing monotonous tasks at work. 🙂

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      1. I’m stunned that one can still get a new car with roll up windows.

        Spotify is wonderful. Put the app on your phone and listen via your car’s Bluetooth. I know, I know.

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  2. Ever read the Stephen King book “Christine”?

    The line about your fear of your car ever testifying against you made me laugh, but there’s a tinge of truth to it. And just a few weeks ago while driving around the Kansas City area for my son’s baseball tourney I was using my phone’s GPS and it occurred to me just how quickly I’ve become dependent on such things. I always prided my map-reading skills and ability to find my way using one. Now? I’m scared to think about how “lost” I’d be. Ugh.

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    1. Christine was a good one!
      The GPS bothered me, too. When I had the OnStar trial, I would put everything in the GPS, but I was glad when it expired because I did become somewhat dependent on it. Back to good old fashioned maps. 🙂

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  3. “I think it was called a map…”

    Or directions, from somebody who knew the area. Some people give really good directions,of course, but some don’t…

    GPS reminds me of the time my mother was being transported from a hospital to a rehab center. The transport people had GPS in their vehicle, so they could successfully travel the ten or so blocks between the two facilities.

    So of course they got lost in the hospital. Way down in some sub-basement where patients were clearly not supposed to be (big dumpsters full of trash and like that). I had an urge to suggest that they should have brought the GPS with them into the building, but they seemed to be getting grumpy and embarrassed, so I didn’t.

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    1. Hospitals are so easy to get lost in… and even the little maps they give you don’t help. Each hospital needs to invent a GPS specifically for it.

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