When I was a youngster, the model of a souped-up car included a deck that played 8-track tapes. Never mind that some songs faded out, only to mysteriously fade back up after a new program started — and they were as large as a book.
By university, cars had adapted to the cassette, meaning that mix tape you made for a Walkman could have new life in a car.
Then came CDs, and then iPod adapters and USB ports and … well, so it goes.
If you think things have become as sophisticated as they can be, guess again. The explosion of GPS devices, in-dash systems and Bluetooth-enabled gadgetry is rocketing onward, and all coming to one great convergence.
The marketplace already has plenty of so-called “infotainment” technologies ready for your car, and it seems manufacturers are preparing to add a suite of them — some voice-enabled, some not — as standard or upgrade features.
Imagine this: you can tell a device in your dashboard to check, say, your Facebook page, and latest status updates will be read aloud to you.
Ditto for headlines from your preferred news sources. If you don’t need to know what you’re hearing, your voice can prompt the next headline. Or switch to another service, like audio streaming through your phone connection.
A few taps of your fingers and you can dictate emails to be sent to anyone you wish. Or, conceivably, you can give a command for technologies at home, from temperature control to the coffee machine.
Brave new world, with custom-fitted interiors and power windows.
To be honest, I’m not quite keen about so much technology at your fingertips in the car.
The simple reason? I believe your fingertips should be on the wheel, always. Yes, the manufacturers and designers I’ve been reading about (huge brands, from Ford to Pioneer, are involved in this market) stress safety at every turn.
But I’m still leery, if only because it’s human nature to fiddle around with things in the car.
Look at GPS devices alone. We don’t really need a GPS unit in our car, although our eyes widened to their possibilities during a family vacation in Ohio a couple of years ago. We got expert guidance in and out of Columbus, for instance, where I’m sure we would have been struggling with maps for a much longer period of time.
But I’ve read enough about the risks of drivers using GPS devices to know they can be deceivingly dangerous. Drivers may think their eyes are away from the wheel for only a split second, but researchers (including those in a segment on CBC’s Marketplace last year) have found it takes much longer to program a GPS than a subject thinks.
So, if we’re going to bundle ever-more technology into our cars, with real-time access to the web, we can surely expect driving to be even riskier.
Granted, there are good technologies coming along, including locks on phones that make it impossible to text and drive. But I’m not sold that stacking the dashboard with new tech, voice-enabled or otherwise, will not have a nasty side-effect.
Elsewhere this week
Muppets with People Eyes
Over the Christmas break, I got a real kick out of this site, which takes photographs of the likes of Big Bird and Scooter and Photoshops some human eyes into them … with creepy and/or hilarious results. As of this writing, there have been no updates in a few weeks, perhaps dashing hopes that this could be one of those brilliantly eerie viral sensations.
One Year, One Canadian
Vancouver writer Darren Barefoot is trying something interesting for 2011: a full year of consuming nothing other than Canadian products. It probably won’t be easy as one might first think. He’s committed to documenting his progress here. (I wonder if a book might come out of it.)
John Gushue is an online editor with CBC News in St. John’s. Twitter: @johngushue. Blog: johngushue.typepad.com.