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Technology May 2018

A Self-driving Car, Really?

By Stephen Wunderli

America is so vast that it can’t possibly be explored by foot, or via train, or self-driving car. The automobile is the testosterone of American spirit. And at 15, it felt like I was about to be
emasculated.

We’ve all seen them – the videos of the driver taking his hands off the wheel while the truck parks itself, or the car changes lanes and drives smoothly along the freeway with the driver’s hands behind his head.

Cars talk to us. They know where we are. They tell us exactly how many miles we have left in the gas tank. You can even push a button in an emergency and talk to somebody who will send help. “Help! I’ve run out of peanut clusters and I still have 130 miles to go!”   

Forty-four  years ago I was reading Popular Mechanics, a section titled “Driving in the Future.” Well when you are 15, the future is when you are 16. So I was mortified to read that the cars of the future would drive themselves.

What? By the time I get my license the car will drive itself and I’ll have no chance to burn rubber, race down dirt roads, take corners fast enough to chirp the tires or take long road trips to wherever I want to go (because of course, the car would decide that for you). I spent sleepless nights imagining a future in an amusement park car, the kind on rails so no matter how you turn the wheel or hit the gas, you move in slow, meandering, controlled circles.

America is so vast that it can’t possibly be explored by foot, or via train, or self-driving car. The automobile is the testosterone of American spirit. And at 15, it felt like I was about to be
emasculated.

After a week of anxiety I talked to my father. He said: “If you’re worried about it, we’ll keep the Monte Carlo for you.”

The 1971 Monte Carlo! A metallic-mustard colored beast with a front end that reached out like a battering ram. V8. 4-barrel-carburetor. Enough torque to spin the hubcaps off. My angst
morphed into pure joy. Turned out that I could only drive it on weekends, but what weekends they were!

Growing up out west there are long stretches of highway where I often buried the speedometer. Gas was 55 cents a gallon. There was a radio. There was a wide bench seat in the front so girls along for the ride would slide next to me on tight corners. And there were those dirt roads etched in the sage-colored desert, waiting for dust plumes to wash across the blue and turn an ordinary sunset into a blistering red skyscape. The freedom was exhilarating. Nothing about the car told me what to do, it only beckoned me to saddle up and find out what I was made of.

Today, I drive an older car. I don’t want a car that stops for me, checks the lane next to me when I turn, knows where I am or where I’m going. I don’t even want a car that tells me to put my
seatbelt on. I wear one, but really, who’s the boss here?

Mine is a generation that sees every material thing as a utilitarian tool for the user. So much of technology feels like a dictator. I was raised on George Orwell’s 1984. I don’t need a Big
Brother for a car. All I really need is a new set of tires.

 

Stephen is a 30-year veteran writer of articles, ads, and children’s books. Like everyone else born before computers, he’s wondering what the big deal is with technology.