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Technology Owns You

I’ve become painfully aware of my dependence on all things technological. From not being able to properly complete a run if my internet radio fails while on the trail to dreading the thought of having to press a button on a key fob instead of having keyless entry. Analogue is so passé.

However, the more technology I integrate into my everyday life (and believe me, there’s a lot of it), the more chance there is of something going wrong -- something I can’t fix on my own.

Take for example the time we tested a Chevrolet Volt; while out on the road the oh-so-fancy and nice-to-look-at digital gauges just stopped working. The screen went blank: no speedometer, no battery reading, nada. We were driving blind, and there was nothing we could do about it. It eventually came back, but we were at the mercy of the car’s technology.

From digital gauges to all-touchscreen centre stacks and electric-lift tailgates, cars today are loaded to the gills with gadgetry and electronic bits and bobs that are bound to fail down the road. And what happens when they do? Well, I found out you have no other option but to call a tow.

While out on the road on a family vacation in a 2013 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD we had a bit of a vehicle malfunction. The power-assisted, electric lift-gate locked in the “open” position and nothing we did would bring it back down. There was no way to override the hydraulic arms and muscle it down, unless we wanted to crack said arms. We were stuck with an open trunk. So, we called for a tow.

It was frustrating because the fix seemed so simple. If only the trunk had an analogue override, some way to bypass all the technological gadgetry so it could just be closed manually. Most power-assisted hatches do not like to be manually “assisted” and will resist any sort of human intervention when on the move. It’s annoying.

I’ve also been in higher-end German vehicles where the radio would suddenly, and loudly, blare static while I was driving -- and it was a known issue for the brand.

Even auto-up windows are risky; as I’ve had one lock in the “open” position after a passenger jokingly hit the up-down button a few times in a row, essentially confusing the system. Same for a self-folding mirror; it complied and folded in, but refused to fold back out. I had to drive with one mirror for a few days before the glitch “passed” because God forbid I muscled it back to open against the electrical motor that would have surely broken further.

Head-up displays, night vision, front crash sensors, blind-spot monitors, rear DVD systems/entertainment hubs, massaging seats, power-assisted trunks/doors/folding mirrors, touchscreens everywhere, fully digital gauges; where will it end? How much more technological gadgetry will we integrate to make our cars harder and harder to maintain on our own without an engineering degree?

As the future of EVs and other such vehicular advancements is practically upon us, I can’t help but panic a little as the world of simplistic knobs, buttons and needles in the gauges are quickly fading away.

2013 Chevrolet Volt driver's cockpit
Photo: Philippe Champoux