By on May 28, 2012

My iPhone has no less than 7 social apps on it (Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Twitter, Tumblr, Tradyo and Instagram), not to mention Google Maps, which like the aforementioned programs, can utilize my phone’s built in GPS beacon to share my location with others (including Apple). My recently departed 1997 Miata was the anti-iPhone. No GPS, no traction control, a barely there ABS system, no electronic throttle. Everything mechanical. My next car will be similar. Simple, robust, resilient. What if we no longer have that option anymore?

Starting in 2015, new cars sold in the United States will, under proposed legislation, have “Black Box” electronic data recorders to help glean all kinds of data. Frankly, that’s the least of my worries, as much as I don’t like the idea of every event behind the wheel being logged.

In my own slightly paranoid opinion, the EDR program is a mere red herring, setting the stage for something else entirely. The end of driving as an autonomous activity. Market forces, like gas prices and car insurance premiums have slowly been putting a squeeze on the notion that getting behind the wheel and just going somewhere is the ultimate act of individual freedom. Now, we have Google’s autonomous (no irony intended) car program, which, as far as I can tell, is a great way for them to serve up more ads. If you’re not focusing on driving, you can watch Youtube content on your Google Android phone, check your Gmail, manage your social life with Google Calender and be totally engrossed in the Googleplex of targeted advertising using GPS beacons in your car and your self-driving Prius.

We all hear the canard that modern cars have never been safer, faster or more fuel-efficient, and it’s not only true, but a boon to the average consumer (perhaps at a cost to the enthusiast – but that’s another discussion for another day). More fuel-efficient cars means less fuel consumption – but it also means reduced revenue from the gas tax, which helps fund infrastructure projects like highways. Raising the gas tax in an era of economic depression would be like peeing on a political third rail, and even in good times, it’s challenging enough to do so. An alternative would have to be drawn up, and according to some well-placed D.C. sources, the inevitable alternative is cost-per-mile fees for driving.

Yes, that’s right. The government could track your every movement in your car (and it will be placed in every car) and bill you for it. I know that despite the best arguments from Grover Norquist & Co., we really do have to pay taxes to grease the wheels of society. Something is going to have to give. If it ever comes down to cost-per-mile taxation, there is going to be an absolute hellstorm of anger and vitriol, no matter who proposes it. I can remember as far back as childhood when Max Mosley and the FIA were showing off speed-limited vehicles based on GPS technology for European roads, and the British rags, already itching for a fight after the implementation of Gatso speed cameras, gave Max the kind of whipping that he’d have to pay £750 an hour for in a Knightsbridge dungeon.

Even if individual freedom is a distinctly American concept, the automobile is the main conduit for that all over the world; not the bicycle, not the motorcycle, not the bus or the train. Developing socities, like India and Vietnam, move on from the scooter and motorcycle as soon as their citizens can afford a car.

More than just a form of mobility, the automobile as individual transportation is a middle finger to the push towards communal living via the internet; “checking in”, “sharing”, “geotagging” and every other noxious form of soft exhibitionism that the tech nerd crowd craves (and, of course, uses to line their pockets – the more you share, the more data they have to help refine their “targeted advertising” systems). The rise of social networks is a constant theme in the media, yet young people are growing ever weary of social networks. Oversharing is frowned upon, and I’m far from the only one to have “nuked” my old Facebook profile (dating back from high school) taking with it all my valuable data, photos and status updates, while creating a new, more restricted account with a much smaller list of friends. The pendulum swing towards living one’s life publicly will not continue in perpetuity.

I spent the past 4 days in New York City, with a mandate to shut off all electronic communication, and enjoy what the greatest city in America has to offer; the grandest architecture, the most walkable streets and a culture that could not exist anywhere else in the world. I never once missed email, Facebook or Twitter, but I did miss driving. The streets of New York, crowded and brutal they may be, were filled with interesting vehicles. Town Cars and yellow cabs everywhere, vintage Land Rovers in Greenwich Village, sport bikes on Broadway, a British Racing Green Lotus Evora on Madison Avenue, a G55 AMG on Wall Street. All of them represent not just freedom of movement, but freedom of possibility. At 4 A.M., the Evora could hit well into the triple digits on one of those multi-lane boulevards. The G55 could drive all the way across the beach at Montauk without getting stuck.

These are, not coincidentally, the kinds of activities that are not meant to be “shared”. You can take someone along if you want to tresspass on protected land, or hit triple digits tearing through Midtown, but you’re not going to want to post photos or videos on Facebook. These things are the kind of experiences that stay forever in the imperfect recesses of the mind, to be discussed sotto voce for years to come among close friends. To “share” them would be profane, corrupting their very essence. Breaking the law isn’t always necessary, but we will always need a hedge against the utopian designs of those who want us all to ride bicycles and live our lives in the cloud. As I reach back into the caves of my mind, where the “Timeline” can’t yet reach, I recall the black NSX of my father, V6 at full song,and  that same car becomes ever more appealing. Maybe Honda will be kind enough to give it a factory re-furbishing, so that I can enjoy the comforts of an essentially brand new car, albeit one free of electronic throttles and data-loggers.

We’ve already seen how old cars are capturing the hearts and minds of our youth more than any of the shiny new stuff on dealer lots. Might there be a new avenue for bringing old cars back to new? How would a car with the retro cachet of something old, combined with a modern refresh from the factory do in today’s world? Yes, it will certainly disrupt the current model of pumping and dumping inventory and making it sell, but a two-fold pushback, against conformist, boring new cars and their monitoring devices, revive the radical, reactionary idea of the automobile as one’s ticket to freedom.

 

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40 Comments on “Generation Why: I Don’t Want To Share Anymore...”


  • avatar
    golden2husky

    I’d be more worried, in the short term, about the insurance companies then the the Feds, tho that might be a problem later. Most cars today already have a black box in them; check your owner’s manual. The greedy insurance bastards that milk the masses will manage to force the release of that data after accidents. That will be step one. Next will be a mandatory use of a Progressive “Snapshot” type of device. Now it is an option. Next it will be required or automatic “assigned risk” coverage. Finally, it will be factory installed. The days of fun are ending. Might as well put a Briggs and Stratton in there instead of real engine.

    I have to admit, after seeing kids with their heads buried in their handhelds for hours on end that they must be missing something that the need to text and chat and track each other endlessly. Maybe if this is the future, that generation will welcome the business community and government into their cars, if they even choose to have one.

    And yes, you see all sorts of interesting cars in NYC; the best part is the surprise as you never expect them.

    • 0 avatar
      chuckrs

      Accidents happen through inattention or intention or bad judgement. For decades there have been tools – collision damage database software, site measurements, photogrammetry, testing – used by accident investigators to determine what happened and who was at fault. Black boxes that store a small amount of information – 60 secs or less – and are only legally accessible after an accident – are on a continuum with accepted practices in use. Older ECUs have been accessed for many years to get some data in fatals and serious injury cases. The problem is the extension to Big Brother levels of logging trending to surveillance – I’ll be damned if I will ever buy a car that broadcasts information like OnStar.

      • 0 avatar
        DreadPirateDoc

        I agree that onstar is an intrusion and very badly implemented. Currently Onstar is not a real problem as long as you understand that you can pull the fuse for it and turn off any reporting or recording.

        My problem with having any of the “Star” programs, including onstar, has always been the possibility that the network from either bad intent or incompetance could shutdown every car connected to it without warning. Losing power as you pass through an intersection is not a trivial event and worse could easily happen.

        I do not appreciate the removal of so many direct controls in current year vehicles. Drive by wire is not an improvement in my opinion. Sure there is a safety to prevent run away throttle even when you release the pedal. Toyota failed that test despite everything their engineers could think of. Automatic Parking has a safety to prevent it from engaging while at 70 miles an hour. How long before we read about that one failing? Smart brakes engage to keep you from running over a child or smashing into the rear of a fast stopping car ahead of you. Sure there is a safety to prevent them from slamming on your brakes when a blowing piece of trash like a metalic potato chip bag triggers them skidding you off the road into a ditch or smashing the slightly heavier truck behind you into your back seat. while you are approaching a curve or a cliff. I don’t want to be in that car. In a world where such safeties are trusted not to fail with alarming regularity I prefer not to take the chance in the first place.

        There could be some benefit to automated driving. It might improve your night out for example. If you had too much to drink and got into your car you could just hit auto drive and say “take me home” instead of getting a taxi and having to take another one back to retrieve your car the next day. I find that use limited but it might slow the drunk driving toll somewhat.

        That is until the hackers start using it to steal your car for rolling parties where they drive formations of stolen cars to nowhere for the thrill of getting more than the other guy. (Hey if we can have flash mobs we can have flash thefts too).

        Humans are nothing if not inventive. We can find a fatal flaw in the most perfect system. I prefer to suffer for my own mistakes not those of a software bug.

      • 0 avatar
        Landcrusher

        Dread,
        Essentially, will you accept greater total risk to your safety so long as that risk is on you rather than someone or something else? IOW, even when the data says you are safer with “the machine”, do you choose personal responsibility over random failure or sabotage?

        It’s a fascinating look at risk assessment and the way people think. Airlines are insanely safe, and the passengers have all submitted their safety. People still freak out about it, but the odds are so much better that the alternatives are foolish bets if safety is the determining factor. OTOH, riding a motorcycle is a different choice altogether.

        Compare motorcycles to private planes. Per mile about the same safety (not counting that the plane gets you there using less miles). The private pilot is so key to safety that he can approach modern car safety by accepting a few limitations. The biker can also reduce his danger by avoiding a few dangerous choices, but the other drivers will keep his odds from getting close to car like safety. Still, no one thinks private planes are safer than motorcycles.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      Progressive is already getting customers to voluntarily add such devices (they plug into the OBD-II port). I know fleets that do the same to monitor their drivers.

      I don’t have a problem with raising the gas tax a penny a year for the next five years or so. I don’t mind paying for the services I use. I also don’t have a problem with incorporating mileage as part of the registration process, so long as it isn’t just a additional fee, i.e., instead of the usual set fee, if it incorporates mileage, people who drive less actually get to pay less under the new system than the old.

    • 0 avatar

      Truer words. In a supposedly anti car mecca, NYC, there is one of the nicest motor fleets in the world, anywhere. I grew up in this area, and we’d see the newest, latest and greatest sitting on a bench in Fort Lee, NJ, (just over the bridge, showy money dept.) or on any Manhattan street, before the magazines broke it.

      Slightly further in, near Alpine New Jersey, Bentley is what you do when all your neighbors have AMG. I’m sure there is a West Coast version of this, but….

      About 50 miles north, east and west of NYC, you cross the “money line”, and the Motor Pool drops off fast to bland offerings of all types. Even the A4 and 3 Series get very rare. I drove my MDX to Tennessee and past NJ it was practically an exotic, whereas at home it’s a yawn.

      One thing is for sure. If you live in the Boston-DC corridor, what you think is the “normal” motor pool is wrong…good for you wrong, but wrong. All those Cavaliers and base Impalas got sold somewhere.

  • avatar
    NormSV650

    GM and others have had EDr’s since 1990′s with Onstar more recently broadcasting your data. Most of these cars the battery draining Onstar can be disconnected.

  • avatar
    NormSV650

    GM and others have had EDr’s since 1990′s with Onstar more recently broadcasting your data. Most of these cars the battery draining Onstar can be disconnected.

    Surprised you didn’t mention the speed trap registry of Trapster especially considering your an automobile writer.

  • avatar
    slow kills

    I believe you’ve misinterpreted the bicycle to motorcycle to car chronology. The first shift occurs during the rapid development, the latter afterward. Perhaps the shift to cars is the enemy of advancement.

    Speaking of motorcycles, they are the best line of defense against automated highways. The dynamics and size make robo-driving an incredibly more difficult and dangerous proposition.

    • 0 avatar
      DreadPirateDoc

      Sounds like you have missed out on the newest motorcycle trend the “Can Am”. You know the snowmobile like three wheelers with two front and one rear? More than one model out there now. Same or greater performance as a two wheeler but no putting your feet in the greese strip every stop and they have traction when cornering over sand on the road. Robo driving can easily adapt to those.

  • avatar
    Patrickj

    Driving in Manhattan can be fun at the right time. While I haven’t ventured south of the George Washington Bridge in about 3 years, I’ve enjoyed a Sunday morning or late Thursday/Friday night drive north as part of a longer trip. The number of light/speed cameras is getting high enough to deter speeding on the avenues, though.

    Enter from New Jersey through one of the tunnels and leave by the GWB or head north/east to your destination.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    I worked for a company that tracked all employee locations in the name of IP security. My office was in an old building where you could leave without telling the computer, so I always did. I was soon counciled about my behavior, with the implication that even though I was setting a new record for task completion, my failure to use the door pad each day proved i was slacking. This was then used by them as self rationalization for cheating me on my pay.

    I moved into sales, more idiocy followed, most of the sales force stopped working and looked for new jobs. I was succeeding, but they stopped paying me claiming I wasn’t fulfilling my contract (I was). Months after I left, I was still a top salesman because those remaining still hadn’t caught up (likely because they knew it didn’t pay to excel).

    The moral: This Big Brother stuff quickly takes on a life of its own. If you own a car without it, you will be assumed to be a bad actor. After all, only bad people worry about being watched!

    The only escape is emigration or revolution.

  • avatar
    Joe McKinney

    I am suprised all of the car companies don’t already use this technology for their own protection. For example, Toyota used black box data to debunk several alleged incidents of Sudden Unitented Acceleration. It turns out the drivers of these vehicles were flooring the gas when they thought they were flooring the brakes. Once it became known that Toyota could retrieve this data the rash of SUA claims dropped significantly.

  • avatar
    krhodes1

    I don’t understand why you kids want to share so much in the first place.

    As to cars, I really, really, really want a car that can auto-pilot on the interstate, and leave the driving to me on the twisty backroads.

  • avatar
    Hezz

    My favorite piece you have written so far Derek. Very solid work, keep it up.

  • avatar

    NYC does have interesting cars, but if you look inside them, even just the ones that SHOULD have sticks, you’ll find that almost none of them have them.

    NYC is also a great walking city. I’ve logged as much as 10 miles at a stretch there.

    Deep into middle age, I really don’t understand all the sharing and oversharing on facebook. I am not on there.

    And, yes, the notion of the gov counting our miles and charging us for them curdles my blood. On the other hand, I think gas taxes are a great idea, and for paying for roads and highways, the gas tax should simply go up as cars get more fuel efficient. That will keep the pressure on for cars to keep getting more efficient.

    On the other hand (with respect to govt per mile charges) I think privatizing highways is a very bad idea. I don’t want private companies squeezing us with high tolls that go to profits for stockholders.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Derek, as a 61-year-old, I can tell you why older vehicles (50′s – early 70′s) continue to capture our hearts and minds: Style!

    What did old vehicles have that made them so appealing?

    1. Chrome bumpers.
    2. Pillarless hardtop styling on most models.
    3. Chrome/bright trim.
    4. Generally more colorful interiors.
    5. Did I mention “STYLE”? I thought so.
    6. Coupes were not a dungeon in the back seat, as the windows were not fixed or sealed for the most part except on the smallest cars.

    Those are just a few reasons.

    • 0 avatar

      In our day–Zackman is definitely a contemporary–cars had faces, with loads of character. Car stylists were great commercial artists, and men like Harley Earl would not have tolerated the dumbing down by committee of their creations.

      I would certainly rather drive my ’08 Civic (stick) than anything from our era, but when a classic car pops up in the sea of appliances, its like color in the midst of gray.

  • avatar
    Neb

    I know I say this every time increasing the gas tax get mentioned, but I can’t believe that a program that is

    i) very effective
    ii) dirt simple
    iii) market based

    is completely unsellable and the more successful alternative is a program that is

    i) byzantine in its complexity
    ii) dangerous to privacy and personal freedom
    iii) of unknown effectiveness.

    • 0 avatar
      Patrickj

      It’s the desperate, propaganda-driven American fear that a few evil hipsters will be able to go to their local Nepali restaurant in an electric car without paying fuel tax.

      On a different propaganda outlet, it is the mirror-image fear that a few evil businessmen will be able to deliver car parts to a mechanic in a natural gas-powered van without paying fuel tax.

      My view is that either problem would be a good one for the country to have. When it gets to 15% of miles driven, we can then figure out how to fix it.

  • avatar
    mitchw

    The more I see of modern cars, the more I accept that I’m getting old since I value more and more the direct controls on my cars. Even so, for the majority of people, I think having the car do the work is the best answer. Woe be upon us when there are a critical number of automated cars on the road; at that point we’ve reached the singularity, and I’m getting off.

  • avatar
    Dirk Stigler

    It’s not that the government will tax you per mile that you drive (fair, if irritating) but that they will start to use it to try to modify your behavior. Want to take that long drive in the country to clear your head? You’re going to pay extra for wasting all that gas on an unnecessary trip! Or worse, you’ll find your car shutting down or turning around and driving you home on its own in order to stop your reckless disregard for your fellowman.

    • 0 avatar
      Landcrusher

      That is exactly where this is leading. They want to charge variable rates based on time and place. Much of this is based on thoughts of Robert Poole from reason.org. He is a bright, nice libertarian who is so fascinated with the idea of market mechanics in transportation funding that he doesn’t see the obvious end game of social engineering and increased taxation to cover new fiefdoms.

      The fuel tax is efficient and incredibly fair (real fairness, not the propagandixed version). It will result in even greater time wasted dealing with the government and it will create market distortions giving more power to crooked pols.

  • avatar
    car_guy2010

    I think the answer is to buy a “new-old” car. In other words, a car that you desire and are willing to work on that won’t cost you a fortune and won’t have all kinds of expensive gizmos to worry about.

    I don’t want a touchscreen in my car. I have an iPhone and iPad. I just need an jack for either to play music and that’s good enough.

    I’ve mulled around the idea of trading my ’84 Honda Magna motorcycle for an older vehicle, maybe something like an older VW Bug that I can actually work on if I’m willing to learn, etc. Anything older that’s reliable would do. I don’t care if it has 100,000 miles or more on it as well as it’s well-maintained and parts are easy to come by.

    • 0 avatar

      With regard to electronics, yes, that’s what I am considering now, too. This might be a solution.

      Regarding gas taxes, there would be ample room for the US government to raise taxes on fuel, if you compare it to Europe. If you go to a gas station, anywhere in Europe, you are already paying more on taxes than on fuel.

      But raising gas taxes to European levels would not last long; that will soon be followed by plans to introduce road fees, like in Germany today. This plans here are introduced under the logo “fairness”, BTW, suggesting that there are so many foreigners using the precious Autobahns without paying taxes that it would only be a matter of justice to have such tolls. The proposers of such tolls are forgetting however to mention that 90% of the traffic is homemade and they will have to take the main burden.

      But what else can we expect from broke governments? That they reorganize their business model and get back to core business? That they try to align expenditures with revenues? Not really, except that they will desperately try to raise their revenues, and people driving cars are an easy target. So, I’m not overly optimistic with regard to the taxation of “individual traffic”.

    • 0 avatar
      azmtbkr81

      Not a bad idea but if you go down this road hold onto your motorcycle, at least initially. I guarantee your new/old car will continuously be in some stage of repair during the first year or so that you own it depending on how ambitious you are.

      No matter how perfect the car seems it will have issues that you may not discover until months down the road. Repairs will take 3x as long when completing them for the first time. You’ll often find yourself waiting for quality OE parts that are not available locally to be delivered from online sources. When Sunday night rolls around and the transmission is still not attached to your car after an epic all weekend clutch replacement session you’ll be glad to have a second set of wheels.

      • 0 avatar
        krhodes1

        As one with long experience of owning older cars, the only way to realistically do it is to have one more than you actually “need”. When #1 is down for maintenance, you can still drive #2. Or #3, or #4 in my case. I did once have to drive my Spitfire in the dead of winter for a couple days because all three of my other cars had something wrong with them though!

        The reality is that any modern new car, even a relative hanger queen like my BMW, is going to be almost infinitely more reliable and lower maintenance than any old car. The thought of driving an old bug around and expecting anything like reliability out of it is hilarious. They weren’t reliable by modern standards when they were NEW! And IMHO, they are not easier to fix, they just need different tools. My BMW may have a couple annoying glitches in the first 100K, but a bug would be ready for an engine rebuild (and here, 3/4 rusted away) by 100K! Plus 3K mile oil changes, points and condensors, multiple spark plug changes, multiple caps and rotors, chassis greasing, carb adjustments, valve adjustments, constant oil leaks, and all the other fun stuff involved with old designs. Fun for the weekend, but no thanks for a daily driver. Never mind the calm and quiet, power, fuel economy, and crash safety of modern cars. The good old days are NOW, and they just keep getting better.

  • avatar
    galloping_gael

    Nice piece, but
    ‘We all hear the canard that modern cars have never been safer, faster or more fuel-efficient, and it’s not only true…”
    it’s not a canard if it’s true…

  • avatar
    daveainchina

    Isn’t what your proposing exactly what ICON is doing?

    Take old vehicles update them and sell them to people interested. As for nuking facebook profiles. I didn’t nuke mine, I just haven’t logged in in so long it might as well be dead.

    Still get a few email announcements about events in NYC, not sure I want to lose those yet. I only have one friend who is an ardent user of Facebook, overall though social media is here to stay.

    I think people need to educate themselves much more about how their information is used and probably work better to control that information.

  • avatar
    CRConrad

    Oh, fer frack’s sake!

    “Even if individual freedom is a distinctly American concept…”

    Sorry, I just couldn’t take in anything you wrote after that. Do grow up and try to broaden your worldview a little, would you?

    • 0 avatar
      vwbora25

      @CRConrad Well he is correct, no where else in the world is the concept as deeply entrenched as it is in the USA, remember you have gone to war over it numerous times in your history

      • 0 avatar
        CRConrad

        @vwbora25: “You”? Whom, exactly, do you think you’re talking to? (And which side are “we” supposed to have been on in these “numerous war[s] over it”?)

        No, he is not correct. That whole “Freedom is so uniquely American!” line is an idiotic old canard propagated by… Well, mainly by Americans, unsurprisingly. And the mere fact that most of them aren’t intentionally lying doesn’t help; it doesn’t get any less annoying just because they don’t know any better.

  • avatar
    Featherston

    New York has “the grandest architecture”? Note to our Canadian friend: Whether the average person realizes it or not, the United States’ architectural capital is Chicago, not New York.

  • avatar
    replica

    Deer god, we’ve angered the Canadians.


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