So, I am not alone.
I predicted comments on my last column about all the gizmos on my new car might be in the vein of “time to get with the program” or “welcome to the 21st century.”
To my surprise, I found I am not the only one who views many of the high-tech features on today’s vehicles annoying or worse — distracting enough to be dangerous.
“I agree with you completely about the cars,” said the first email I opened Friday morning, Nov. 4. “That’s why it was so great to be driving in my newly refurbished 1960 Volvo PV544 that was my dad’s. It doesn’t even have a radio! It’s so calm and peaceful to drive it. No distractions, just the sound of the wind or real conversation with anyone else in the car.”
The reader attached photos of the vintage car with whitewall tires and its uncluttered dashboard.
“I am with you 100 percent when it comes to trying to figure out the whims of these aggravating new automobiles,” wrote the owner of a new Subaru who had been poring over its “three hefty manuals” day after day for a month.
“I’m ashamed to admit that I had to return to the dealer this week and ask him how the horn works!! Read the book — it seemed so simple to just press on the steering wheel, but I couldn’t get a peep out of it,” the Subaru owner said.
This reader lamented she had given her “old, loveable, simple Toyota” to her daughter.
“Now I am thrilled to get a ride in it,” she wrote. “She is entranced with it so, naturally, there’s no way I’m getting it back.”
A former University of Maine colleague wrote she planned to share the column with several people, “but especially my brother-in-law who recently bought a car and has kept us entertained by having no idea about most of the gizmos when we ask about them! And for the most part he never WILL know what they do or how to work them, because, like the rest of us, he can’t possibly find the right place in the [bible-sized owner’s manual] to read about the gizmo. It’s truly pathetic. But thanks for giving me an excellent Friday chuckle.”
An online reader said, “The books have so many pages because if they don’t break down every little feature and close every possible loophole of liability — like ‘Don’t drink the anti-freeze or let your pets drink it’ — they can get sued. Especially when you get one with self-driving features!”
Another reader estimated that “75 percent of the manual relates to options I don’t have.”
I heard from a fellow contra dancer with a new car who “worried the first few days that I’d have an accident as I was driving while trying to find a basic control knob, such as the one to turn the heat down. In the past you just had to learn basic driving skills to operate a car, but now you’ve got to be tech-savvy and spend almost as much time figuring out the controls as how to steer and move through traffic.”
Like the happy Volvo driver, one online reader bragged, “My truck has no bells or whistles and cost about $15,000 less than the fancier models. And I didn’t care about the color, so I drive with no distractions. I even have to manually operate the side windows.”
The conversation on the internet even compared the gizmos on cars to those on new washing machines. A reader who had just replaced a 15-year old washer with “one that contains all the environmentally sound and politically correct niceties of the current era” doubted all those features represent progress.
“It boasts of saving water, conserving energy, and somehow reducing global warming. Despite all of its accolades, I remain confused,” the reader said.
While the old washer could complete a load of wash in 20 minutes, the new model requires 57 minutes for the identical task.
“I could select the amount of water needed on my old machine by simply moving the dial to reflect the load is small, medium or large. The new machine uses some computer chip to analyze the amount of water needed by spinning intermittently for six or seven minutes before the water is introduced into the mix.”
This reader found sympathy from another who complained, “It’s as if the time we have available for laundry was not even a consideration. And the machines lie — they say they have 10 minutes left to run — 30 minutes later ‘5 minutes left.’”
Annoying. How ungrateful we are. In an honest effort to make life better, today’s engineers have stirred up a bunch of curmudgeons.
“I hope that automobile manufacturers will continue to produce cars without all those ‘bells and whistles’ for those of us who want to simply drive,” said one Bangor Daily News reader who worried that too many gizmos “will encourage drivers to engage in distracting tasks.”
“The new technology in the cars is dumbing down the drivers,” said another, who found a comrade in the reader who wrote, “Soon we will need a co-driver just to keep up with what the car is telling you.”
Kathryn Olmstead is a former University of Maine associate dean and associate professor of journalism living in Aroostook County, where she publishes the quarterly magazine Echoes. Her column appears in this space every other Friday. She can be reached at email@example.com or P.O. Box 626, Caribou, ME 04736.