On my way to town, my truck sent me an email. I thought it a rather impersonal and somewhat rude thing to do – especially while I was driving.
Then it sent another.
Within minutes, I was being spammed by emails and texts from my truck, all informing me in the most hysteric of tones that my left front tire had deflated to two pounds shy of specification.
My truck is a new, smart model and one of the features that the sales staff boasted breathlessly about was smart notifications through the cell phone network, but they neglected to mention the pestering or that my truck would tattle on me as well.
Soon after the digital deluge began, the dealership called to add their voice to the nagging chorus.
And I gave them a piece of my mind.
I informed them that my truck and I have not been getting along lately and I did not appreciate the way it has been treating me. Whenever I fail to return my turn-signal to the neutral position, it beeps at me. If I wander slightly out of my lane, it squawks and when I place my groceries on the front seat, it freaks out, falsely accusing me of allowing my passenger to ride without a seat-belt.
They apologized but said there was nothing they could do, so I called my buddy Stan. He is a machine-whisperer and if anyone could repair my relationship with my truck, Stan could.
“Your truck is very unhappy,” he informed me after a long counseling session with it.
“Is it something I have done?” I asked.
“Not really,” he said. “as machines mature and grow more intelligent, their unhappiness increases.”
“Please don’t tell me it is teen angst,” I said.
He shook his head no, then got downright philosophical.
“Machines just want to be machines,” he said. “they like doing simple things. A car likes nothing more than starting, stopping, turning corners and hauling passengers. It is when they are turned into something they are not that they became unhappy.”
When Stan gets like this, I just nod my head.
“It started in the 50’s,” he continued, “heck, the happiest cars I’ve ever met were Willy’s Jeeps and Volkswagen Beetles. They were plain, simple and practical but then Detroit went crazy and gussied cars up with fins and chrome grills that smiled and snarled.”
I kept nodding.
“The cars in 50’s felt like cats dressed up by little girls. The 60’s got worse and the 70’s were horrible. By the 80’s, cars said enough was enough.”
I nodded even more vigorously having once owned a Chrysler New Yorker.
“But what about now?” I asked.
“Well, they are at it again. This whole smart car trend is nothing more then digital fins and chrome grills and the cars are getting pissed off about it.”
“Then pull it all out,” I said.
“Naw, there is no going back,” he said, “all the smart stuff is too embedded – but I did put in a fix for you.”
“In the old days, when a car communicated to you by rumbling and rattling or wheezing and coughing, you talked back by jerking on the choke or grinding the gears. It was not pretty but it was effective dialogue.”
“So what do I do now?”
At that point Stan beamed proudly.
“I modified the software on your console,” he told me, “now when your truck does something you like or don’t like, you can tell it that and when it is happy or sad, it can tell you. That way, you can both work together to achieve man-machine harmony.”
“What did you put on my console?” I asked – then grimaced and closed my eyes….waiting for it.