Culture

American Drivers Still Like to Kick it Old School

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Take a look around. Granted you aren’t alone in your home or isolated in a cubicle, there are probably several people around you and they are either a) on a phone b) on a computer/tablet or c) staring at a TV.

The modern age is obsessed with technology, innovation, and sleek, time-saving gadgets.  The computer has infiltrated our kitchen appliances, car interiors, and home security systems. My parents’ kitchen has a toaster that sings and a microwave with funky, blue LED lights. Why?  Because we love it.  We drool over the simplistic piece of glass that allows us to control just about everything with just a few finger taps.  We just think it’s cool… and it is.

Car manufacturers have taken this proclivity for touch screens and tech and have integrated them into our second living rooms: the car.  Interestingly, the appearance of computers in the car has experienced a mild backlash.  Not only is this criticism fueled by frustration over systems that are too complicated or hard to understand, but also by American drivers’ attachment to buttons and knobs.  Funny, right?  After all our obsessive antics regarding touch screens and “simplicity” and it turns out we still, secretly, like buttons and knobs.  See, we’re still traditionalists.

These days, most car brands have computers in their newest models—the computer is the newest “standard feature.” In the case of Ford and its MyTouch system, reviews have been mixed.  Spotty tech performance aside, the main gripe seems to be that drivers have a hard time operating the system while driving.  Many drivers are unable to adjust the volume or change the radio station because they do not have knobs—and must click through a few computer windows to complete the task via a touch system.  Some brands, such as Infiniti, have actually designed their computer systems to “lock” while the car is in motion. While this is a good safety measure it wouldn’t be necessary if the car still contained a few essential buttons or knobs.

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Unfortunately for some car manufacturers, continued frustration by grappling drivers who just want to turn the volume down or turn off “that blasted polka music” has led to poor quality rankings. Like Ford, Cadillac and its touch-screen system CUE have also endured a plague of problems and complaints.

Late last month, I asked for push buttons to be reinstated:

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?!

It seems my plea, and that of other, unhappy car-computer owners has been answered: the long lost buttons and knobs have returned.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that Ford has “given in” and has reintroduced “old-fashioned knobs and buttons” to the center console in both existing and future models. The volume will now be a knob. Radio tuning? A knob.  I’m sure that other car manufacturers will follow suit in the near future — nobody wants to lose business to a competitor over the absence of a button…

I would like to say that I grant Ford, Cadillac, Infiniti, and others a lot of points for the creation of their computer systems. They are extremely complex computers that took a lot of thought and creativity to design. I have Sync in my Ford and although it has its pitfalls, it is helpful. Car manufacturers and designers need to realize that “new” isn’t always “better.”  Sometimes, innovation from the past can trump our developments of the present day. I don’t mean to say that touch-screens are on their way out and will be completely replaced by old-school buttons, they won’t be, but we’ve seen that in the quest for efficiency and ease, buttons are sometimes better.  I’m sure we will continue along the road of personal-computer domination– just don’t take away the buttons and knobs.