Thursday, June 14, 2012

Cars and Tech

Interesting article in the New York Times today profiling the technology promises in automobiles. It's the second time this week I've seen an article referring to how the pace of change in automobiles is struggling to keep up with the pace of change in media and technology. Makes me wonder when an automaker is just going to collaborate directly with Google or Apple to create an App that does what these automakers have been trying to do.

The Times article also brought to mind an interesting commentary in one of the leading auto magazines about the falling proportion of young drivers. That article brings up some good points explaining the falling car ownership and licensure: that young Americans are more urban and suffering from a poor economy. I think the article is missing two other subtle but deep changes in the last generation. First, the proliferation of personal entertainment devices. The last generation has experienced a sea change in what one can do on a long car ride, from personal game systems to video players to cell phones and smart phones. For our kids today, a car ride essentially equates to a time to zone out.

More importantly, let us not dismiss the impact of changing laws regarding child safety in cars. Kids can't sit without a special restraint until they are about 8, and they are forbidden from sitting up front until they're at least 12. So by the time they are untethered from safety and legal restraints, they're at that awkward I-don't-want-to-be-in-the-same-area-code-as-mom-and-dad phase of adolescence. I chuckle when I see students picked up at school by parents who pull up to the curb and then power open the side door of the minivan so the student can step on into the back. There was a day when the quest to sit "shotgun" was an all-consuming passion, even when mom or dad was in the driver seat.

Oh, and let's not forget the impact of driver licensing laws that make kids wait until well after their 16th birthday to actually get their license. Then there is also the fact that high school kids are so engrossed with studies and co-curriculars (not a bad thing, mind you) that there isn't time to get the job to earn the money to buy the gas for the car you've not really been that interested in saving.

So for young Americans, why the heck not just wait it out for Google or Apple to figure out how to make a car drive itself?

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