Monday 2 October 2017

Clever Cars or Dumbing Down?

The inexorable rise in technology has now well and truly invaded the modern motor vehicle.  I doubt that Henry Ford, Karl Benz or Gottlieb Daimler would ever have envisioned the types of horseless carriage that now roll off the average production line but in our 21st century world it is another opportunity for clever technology.  If a human can do it, then a human can program a computer to do it.  So we have automatic windscreen wipers, automatic lights, parking sensors, automatic braking systems, cruise control, GPS locators, Bluetooth, ESP, ABS, tyre pressure sensors, self parking systems etc., the list goes on.  Furthermore, after 125 years of the internal combustion engine, improved and refined many times but never replaced, we now have a viable, practicable and available alternative, the fully electric motor car.

Everything is good, yes?  Well, maybe.  Technology is great and I love having a car with gadgetry all over it - it makes my life easier, it's impressive and it's fun too!  I use it - all the time - and I love it.  I've started to depend on it.  If the parking sensor bleeps at me, I know to take a look; otherwise pah, nothing's there!  Cruise control on the dual carriageway - so easy.  Hill Assist - great, no need for the handbrake.  Windscreen wipers and headlights are always on automatic.  Driving just gets easier and easier.  But herein lies the danger, a very real danger - when technology takes over and I just let it. 

Some unsophisticated tribes around the world believe that if you take a photo of them you take away part of the individual.  They become less.  Can the same happen with technology?  Does a dependence on it mean that we become less as individuals?  Less willing perhaps?  Less able?  As we rely on technology to do things for us, is there a danger that we will prefer not to do it for ourselves?  Maybe we will lose the physical ability to do it or even forget how to do it.  If we don't use a particular muscle, it weakens.  That's fine - if we don't and won't ever want or need to use that muscle again.  But what if we do?  What if we might have to in the future?  What if the technology isn't available?  What if it's broken, or obsolete?  What if we simply don't want to use the technology but prefer to do it ourselves?  Maybe we will be able to; maybe we won't.

Furthermore, I believe that the relentless march of technology into modern driving is at least partially responsible for the decline in driving standards.  Take the satnav for example.  Why do people use them?  To get to places they don't know.  It seems reasonable to me - we used to read maps - but each to their own.  So, why do people use it driving to and from work?  To be informed of traffic conditions?  Rather than actually reading the road?  To be informed about prevailing speed limits?  Rather than reading the road!  Perhaps to avoid having to think for themselves!  Reading the satnav is not the same as reading the road.  It won't tell you that the traffic lights have just turned red ahead.  Could this be why more drivers jump red lights these days?  It won't tell you that someone's heading for the zebra crossing and you need to stop.  Could this be why not all drivers give way at zebras?  It won't tell you which lane to use on a roundabout.  Could this be why drivers' lane discipline is so poor these days?  It won't tell you about the correct speed to go round a bend.  Could this be why seeing Corsas in hedgerows is commonplace?  It won't tell you about the slippery road surface ahead.  It won't tell you what effect the weather is having?  It won't tell you about road conditions?  It won't always tell you about temporary speed limits, road works, broken down vehicles and other hazards.  It won't tell you about the kid that's just run into the road right in front of your car.  Oh, hang on, that's what the automatic braking system is for, isn't it?

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