I guess I should have been researching something about the looming economic ice age, and how to survive it. But once again I was perusing the Hammacher Schlemmer online catalogue for gadgets and bizarre stuff. (My all-time favourite? Safe-T Man, the inflatable torso with head and arms, that you prop up in the passenger seat, to give the impression you’re not travelling not alone, but with a mean-looking, unshaven dude.)
Anyways, one of their new gadgets is the Activity Reporter, which is basically a magnetic USB drive with a GPS radio.
Hide it in the car somewhere for a few weeks, then download its data into a PC, and presto, you’ll know where your teenagers have been sneaking with the family car, and how fast they were driving. The data can even be examined using Google Earth.
With GPS and cellular and computer chip technologies being so ubiquitous, and now so tiny, there is, and will be, no end of new ways to stick them in automobiles. So we’re going to be seeing lots of these parental aids coming on the market.
One of the more noteworthy ones will be Ford’s MyKey, which debuts as standard equipment on the 2010 Ford Focus. Parents can program the key to limit the vehicle’s top speed and audio volume. It can also provide more incessant “buckle up” warnings, and for chimes to go off at certain speeds (like 80, 100, and 120 km/h).
Does this sound like too much big brother?
It’s hard to argue against initiatives when they’re in the name of safety, especially for inexperienced teenage drivers.
But I have concerns. One is actually with the term “big brother.” Now I know it came from George Orwell’s novel, 1984, where Big Brother stood for the overbearing totalitarian state, which was forever “watching you.” But all the big brothers I came in contact with during my early driving years, including my own (hi Nick), and those of my friends, didn’t seem all that worried about any matters of the state, safety or otherwise.
These guys were more apt to say something like, “Why don’t you drive Dad’s LeBaron into that corn field over there, get it powersliding, and see if we can make one of those crop circles?”
As such, in driving safety contexts at least, maybe we lose the term “Big Brother” and go with “Church Lady”? Just a thought.
My other concern is that we all be aware that these controls will be fighting some powerful and necessary forces of nature. All humans crave free will, experimenting, and getting away with things (like not being eaten by a lion.)
This is part of how we evolved to get so clever, and why we have all that room in our craniums — it needs to be filled with learning experiences, like eat dirt, get sick, don’t eat dirt again.
So I say let’s keep the kids safe with technology, but let’s leave them some dirt to eat. Because real, thinking people, who learn from experiences and gradually understand consequences, are always preferable to one-minded Safe-T People.
Michael Goetz has been writing about cars and editing automotive publications for more than 20 years. He lives in Toronto with his family and a neglected 1967 Jaguar E-type.