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Tomorrow's world

Keeping our eyes off the road

A sign of things to come? A Tesla driver smashing his screen

I think car manufacturers may be trying to wipe out humanity, says Jay Caspian Kang in The New York Times. How else to explain the growing ubiquity of touch screens on dashboards? Things like air conditioning and music used to be controlled by “perfectly serviceable” knobs and buttons. Now, alas, everything is part of a “matrix of little boxes on a glowing screen”. The oversized device in my Subaru almost never complies with my commands. I still have “zero intuitive sense” of where all the relevant “shapes and pictures are”, two years after buying the car. And because each new screen takes a while to load, simply turning on the radio can mean taking my eyes off the road for a good 10 seconds. So it’s as dangerous as it is maddening.

The seemingly inexorable rise of the dashboard touch screen – the new Cadillac Lyriq’s is a whopping 33 inches – is a perfect example of what the writer Evgeny Morozov calls “solutionism”. This is the pathological need among engineers to “solve” anything and everything with tech, no matter how pointless and/or counterproductive. I get why car manufacturers love touch screens – they’re cheaper than the old kit and give sales teams something to boast about. But consumers are getting a feature that “makes you less safe [and] doesn’t improve your driving experience in any meaningful way”. What a con.