'There's An App For That'... But Does Your Car Need It?


I am a firm believer that technology can sometimes make you “dumber.”  Sometimes having “an app for that” can lead to the loss of basic skills — and we become dependent on a machine to do actions for us. Calculators have dulled our ability to do basic math, texts have degraded the English language to sentences like “C U L8r,” and Mapquest has made us paper-map illiterate. The infiltration of technology into autos is no different… soon we might not even have to know how to drive! (And that would be a sad day.)

Cars are now packed with the newest examples of the “cutting edge” — but technology and computers aren’t always the best thing. Some features are “so smart” they can be downright annoying or end up being completely unhelpful. Here is my take on some of the cool features available today… but are they really enriching our lives or are they making us lazy, easily-annoyed, distracted drivers?


Give this person a medal–not a ticket.

1. Parallel Park-Assist

I understand that this feature is invaluable to a large swath of the population — and all the power to you. But just because many need it doesn’t necessarily mean it is good technology. You know what this feature really is? It’s a crutch for the drivers out there who cannot figure out the rhythm of backing AND turning the steering wheel. What happens when these parallel-park assist users get into a car that doesn’t have the feature? Emergency situations, you’re the designated driver, rentals? Do you freeze in fear like the automatic-only driver when faced with a stick-shift? NO! You should embrace the parallel spot and park that bad boy like nobody’s business — without the computer! And treat yourself afterwards — conquering “the parallel” is always a solid victory.

So, unless the world decides to completely banish parallel parking, drivers should know how to execute the famed maneuver… just in case.


2. Overzealous Wipers: Moisture-Sensing Windshield

Point blank: I hate this feature. I am the driver! I want to be in control. One of my family members owns a car with this feature. I love driving the car — but when I do,  I dread any kind of moisture that is not a monsoon. This feature is so touchy, a single drop of water from an overhead bridge will send the wipers into a frenzy–and you, the driver, into a panic to turn them off. The computer equates one drop of rain with an impending hurricane and wants to prove its loyalty to you by wiping ALL molecules of H2O off the windshield. I’m driving a vehicle– I think I’m capable of flipping a switch when I want the wipers on if it’s raining. I respect your admiration for me, wipers, but please–follow Psalms and just be still.


Simple ambient lighting is sufficient.

3. Rainbow Bright: Crazy Cabin Illumination

To be fair, my car has this — but why? I appreciate the extra lighting in places that are important — in the foot-wells and around the door handles (it’s always awkward to grapple for those in the dark when trying to escape the car after an awkward date) — so I think the lighting should stay. But do we really need 8 colors to choose from? The selected color illumination changes when I open the door, when I pop the trunk… it’s unnecessary. The cabin doesn’t need to turn into a light-show at dusk.

Designers, light the spaces where we need it, but don’t waste your time deciding what shades of green you should offer. Do you think they will like “Lime” or “Lime-Yellow” better? Your time is better spent making my on-board computer system easier to understand.


4. Ready for launch: All-Controlling Computer Systems

And on that note, we get to the one-stop shop computer system. Some of the first computers with interactive screens in cars were navigation systems. Then, the navi became the navi and the satellite radio. Now it’s the navi, satellite radio, regular radio, CD player, air conditioner, heater, mileage calculator, tire pressure monitor, phone-book… it goes on and on. Oh, it can also find you the nearest Chinese restaurant.

Ok, being Americans we do like to have everything in one place (hence why we love places like Target and Walmart), but, at a certain point, “all” can become “too much.” In putting all car controls in a computer, one has to navigate menus, sub-menus, scroll, press a multitude of buttons to get to the correct screen (and sometimes that screen “freezes” because the car is in motion)… and now you have to wait until a red light to change a setting. It can get dangerous when you’re concentrating harder on navigating the menus than concentrating on the road… and all you wanted to do is turn the fan up on the a/c! With on-board computers becoming the norm, hopefully they will evolve into simpler set-ups… or reinstate some of the long-lost push buttons. Who doesn’t like manually cranking up that volume?!