onboard navigation system. Note roll-down windows

Every now and then I used to wish someone would plow into my (parked) car so I could get a new one. Not one with all the bells and whistles, but maybe one bell and a pair of whistles. For instance, I’d like to be able to see what I’m about to run over when I’m backing up. And I’d rather have my car scream at me than my passengers when I’m about to veer into someone in my blind spot.

I’ve lost that new-car urge of late, though. They start off at a million dollars, stripped down. And you can’t pick your bells or your whistles. You have to take the whole cacophony. Your car is just a big computer with heated seats now.

This means my car, like everything else, would constantly be telling me how dumb I am. I’d probably have to get some random kid to start it up like you have your child blow in the alcohol detector. I’m completely baffled by people’s dashboards now and that’s as a passenger with time to study them. It looks like the instrument panel on a 747.

The reason the dashboard is so ornate is because it is in the important business of collecting all your personal information. The contents of your phone calls, your weight, your health, your whereabouts, your sexual history.


You used to be able to wipe your sexual history clean from your car with bleach and a soft rag, but that was back in the old days, before cars had bucket seats and before people’s parents let them have sex in the house. Now I’m not sure any of it can be wiped clean. Your car is bristling with microphones and cameras beyond what information you’re volunteering.

Women who use a period-tracking app instead of just checking their underwear old-school might discover that their cycles, and any interruptions to their cycles, and any trips they might have taken to Planned Parenthood, are all readily available to Ron DeSantis and the citizen morality police. Information can also be made available to the local constabulary. It’s not all bad. If they have access to your period tracking app, they’d have an idea when would be a really bad time to pull you over.

It’s hard to see anything else good coming out of this, though, unless you’re confused about your sexual identity and/or preferences, whereupon you could drive around for a while and see what your car thinks.

My car is stupid, or, as I prefer to think of it, innocent. It might be handy to have a smart car that sensed you were at the grocery store and could tell you what it was you went in for. My car wouldn’t even know it was at the grocery store. Even my phone doesn’t know where I am. It knows where it is, but not me.

Sometimes my car thinks maybe I should Check Engine, but I don’t like to pry. We have an understanding and a sense of privacy. My car, at the very least, is not going to monitor my complexion and weight and heart rhythm and drive itself to the ER when I’m aiming for the donut shop. Or drive me right into a lake if it decides it doesn’t like me. What? You think if your car knows everything about you it’s not going to have an opinion? It’s going to have an opinion.

Cars used to routinely crap out in a smoking heap at the side of the road. Now that cars are so reliable—I will give them that much—the new version of your car crapping out is it decides it doesn’t care about you enough to assist you. What do you mean, your young friend will whine, get a damn map? What do you mean, they have them at the gas station?

What’s a map?

This is dangerous ground. Whole-house computer systems can be hacked. Pacemakers can be hacked. Worse, someone can remotely hack into your car and commandeer your sound system so it plays nothing but Stevie Nicks at top volume. Then demand a ransom.

I’d pay it, too.