OK, so I drive a kind of old car. It's not a classic car, but it has done over 166,000 miles (at the time of writing). It's a 2008 Mercedes E-class. It has lovely comfy seats and is designed to transport you vast distances without fuss.
Anyway, whilst the engine is just bedding in - I have been told more than once that it is good for 400,000 miles - the other aspects of the car have, coughs character.
Over the last year, I've had a variety of warning lights appear on the dash. I think of it as Warning-Light-Bingo. My strategy of late is based on one of pragmatic reality; I'm a poet and an author. I have no money, so I will just ignore them.
Sure, sometimes it is just helpfully telling me that I need to fill up the washer fluid, which I usually get around to. Oh, while I think about it, please please PLEASE can car makers tell me that when I start the car, and not after 15 minutes, as I hack down the fast lane and an almost legal speed! - Just sayin'.
Back to my point. I have noticed a couple of things. One is that I find the usual warning lights, a kind of greeting. It feels like the car is saying "Hi, good afternoon." Which has the rather curious result of me not wanted "fix" them; it would detract from the car's personality.
Now let's be clear here, the car is totally safe, and we are talking about superficial issues... almost. I mean, the brake system failure warning light is actually a failure of the sensor rather than the entire system itself. Albeit, if the brake system did fail, then the cute little light wouldn't tell me. To be fair, I would most likely notice the failure, as I applied pressure to the brake pedal only to be presented with nothing; the light wouldn't fix that, just give me notice of the impending doom...
The other day, whilst driving, a new light appeared. It was the doom-ladened Yellow-Triangle with an (!) in it. I was on a motorway at the time, so I approach it with the importance that it warranted. I ignored it, on the basis that it was only yellow and not red.
After a few miles, it was followed by further messages stating that the EPS (traction / stability control), Cruise Control, Speedtronic, and Tyre Pressure systems were also non-functioning. I accordingly (marginally) reduced my speed and ambled home.
As I sat on the driveway, looking at the multi-coloured LED dashboard before me, I took a moment to think; was it time to part ways with this car? That thought made me sad. Having driven 100,000 or so miles in this car, I had a "relationship" with it. No, I concluded, that the relationship deserved slightly more than a dismissive gesture. (This obviously had nothing to do with the fact that I had no financial means to replace/fix the car...!)
My approach was 2 pronged. 1. How serious was the actual problem? 2. How difficult / costly was it to fix?
After some online sleuthing (I use DuckDuckGo), I determined that the systems that failed were all inter-related, which explained the multiple failures. The cause of the fault seemed to swing wildly from "just a sensor" to "just a sensor that was a nasty pain in the arse to replace".
My mood changed from mild-anxiety-induced panic to mild-anxiety-induced indifference; it wasn't life threatening.
So, just like the brake-system warning light failure, the thing that had broken / switched off was a driver-aid. It was something that was designed to protect me from my idiot self.... and that got me thinking.
My first car had nothing like these systems. If you drove like an idiot, then you would crash (like an idiot). My current car (before failure) would allow me to pull out of a junction on a wet slippery road, press my right foot into the floor, and it would "take care of things" for me. It was essentially "idiot proof".
Here is my point, after a rather over-long pre-able; is "idiot proof" a good idea?
To be sure, there are certainly several idiots who would be well served in being protected from themselves, but what about the rest of us?
When I drove my first car, I was acutely aware of my surroundings and the road conditions. Sure, I couldn't always do much about the aquaplaning or the sudden black ice, but at least I was connected to it. I had an appreciation of the limitations of grip that the car & tyres could provide. Now, I am entirely disconnected from it; I am electronically protected from the reality of my surroundings.
If we take a wider view of this, and look at the trend of protectionism and snowflake-ism, it is by some measure a safer place. We are protected from our idiot selves. However, we also have less "contact" with the reality of the world.
Why does this matter if we are "safer"?
It matters because we are losing a vital skill. I'm not just talking about understanding how the laws of physics apply to a moving car, I am talking about our ability to discern idiots and junk, on & off-line.
We certainly need to protect certain people, who were certainly previously left (unreasonably) to fend for themselves. However, in our attempt to do that, we often blanket-protected everyone.
In doing so, we may have (indirectly) removed a vital skill; to effectively identify and handle idiots and mis-information....
For me, it turns out that I am actually quite OK driving around with those cute lights on the dashboard.
I'm a carbon-unit who writes; a Carbon Writer. Life & culture are my default topics, mixed with a little English wit & sarcasm. Full of mostly true stories, I occasionally remember to write them down. Found in a crowd, or contemplating in a corner. Habit of talking to anyone. Author.
- Nigel Derbyshire