During those anxious hours that preceded the moment when it was all supposed to come to an end, I had enough time to reflect on what the end of the world actually is. Is it the psychical demise of all living things, or just the passing into an unknown realm of the conscious self, the death of the human mind and spirit as we've come to know it?
Obviously, I reached a conclusion, otherwise I wouldn't be writing these lines here. And that conclusion, my friends, is that the end of the world will not be as we've come to know it from whatever religious book our parents told us is sacred, but definitely more subtle in nature. In fact, it will not even be the end of the world at all.
For years now, we've been telling you about everything and at times anything that goes on in the automotive industry. Every now and then, that included telling you about the advancements automakers have made in developing driver assistance systems and, more recently, about the smartphone apps developed by this or that company and supposedly intended to enhance the driving experience and ease the very complicated task of pushing some pedals and turning the steering wheel.
Now, in 2011, shortly after the world didn't come to an end, we have on the market systems and apps that help you do anything and everything, but most importantly (and this is where it all gets weird) apps and systems that help you do things you normally did rather well on your own until now. Let us give you only one example, a more recent one.
Last week, news of BMW working on a left turn assistant surfaced. Simply put, the system will help drivers do a better job at turning left by evaluating the possible incoming dangers and even step in and override the driver when such a danger is detected.
Even if not all of us are the best drivers in the world (yours truly included), I'm pretty damn confident that most of us do a great job at taking a left turn without any computerized system helping us. So why then do automakers and other companies rush in to create systems we could do very well without?
The official version is that these systems and apps are supposed to make the roads safer. The real reason is the fact that in today's world gadgets sell. They sell because, somewhere along the way, man discovered that he can chose the easy way out. He can have someone or something else do the job for him, while he goes about doing nothing at all in return.
But what can we expect in a world where the Americans have become so lobotomized that they prefer paying money to a service operator to have their phones disengaged while driving, so that they can't text or talk anymore? Has turning off the phone or ignoring a call become such a hard thing to do?
What can you expect in a world where a telematics system operator like OnStar has to launch an entire campaign to prevent children from being forgotten in a car for an entire day, under the scorching sun? A world where OnStar advises placing a valued item, like a laptop, on the back seat , so that you won't forget your kid...
Rather sooner that later (and this is a prediction that, unlike Harold Camping's not so near miss, has a great chance of becoming reality) apps and driver assistance systems will take over driving all together. Volvo is already working on autonomous cars, at least two other car makers as well, so it's only natural to envision a future where the man behind the wheel will do nothing but sit and watch the car drive itself.
What happened to all the joy of driving a car? I come from a place where, when power steering became a reality a while back, it was considered to be the eighth wonder of the world, praised in the newspapers of the day and featured as an icon on the car manufacturer's ad posters. Yet nobody complained until that time that turning the steering wheel causes muscle cramps, and not even about the fact that steering was not that accurate altogether.
Now, in the same place on the Globe, if you don't have a car packed with useless gadgets and apps, you don't count for anything.
Slowly, the human spirit is dying, killed, ironically, by the human spirit. The search for a better life has brought not necessarily a better life, but a lazier one, one that requires you to think only that much and do even less.
The end of the world will not be a natural disaster, but an unnatural surrender of free will, initiative and dreams. Once, man had a brain, but apparently he used it all. So you either app what's left, or die.
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I love the joy of driving, but I also love the joy of not attending funerals. Maybe we can use a bit of engineering to help us have more of both.