By Muyiwa Adetiba
A couple of years ago, bank PHB, a Nigerian bank, ran some exciting futuristic adverts. One of them was on cars that could drive themselves while holding the owners in decent conversations. It seemed far fetched but the reality is that most of these futuristic science fictions seem to catch up with us sooner than we expect. If the mind can conceive it, then science seems to be able to achieve it. I will not be at all surprised, given what cars are up to these days, if Bank PHB’s dream soon becomes a reality.
I am not a car buff by any stretch of the imagination, but I have come across some fascinating stuff about this age-old means of transportation. I have read for example, of innovations that would make a car stop on its own rather than hit an immovable object. I have read of cars that would automatically increase traction as the road gets more and more slippery.
I have read of cars that could drive on dry land and also do small stretches on water. I have read of cars that could fly a short distance in case there is a bad traffic on the way to the airport. I have read of cars that could move sideways and thus be able to pack in a very tight place. How many of these would be developed into full commercial use is anybody’s guess.
Some of these amazing features are already with us; for example, most modern cars would now bleep if you were too close to an object. Some would help you reverse by lightening a screen that shows the back of the car. And some kind of auto-drive already exists.
My first experience of Satellite Navigation (SatNav) was about a decade ago. A friend who was taking me to the Gatwick Airport in the UK switched on the SatNav. I gawked in amazement as it calculated the distance and time needed to get to the airport.Then it proceeded to tell us the route to take while constantly telling us the estimated time of arrival depending on our speed. This devise has now become so widespread that you wonder how tourists and first time travellers survived without it in the past.
Then last week, an American newspaper ran a story about a recent innovation in four wheel technology. One that is as fascinating as it is worrisome.In these days of wikileak, phone and email surveillance, any new device that has to do with an invasion of privacy has to bother us.
It seems somebody has decided to put the equivalent of a black box in cars albeit for a noble purpose! Should a car have a fatal accident, investigators want to be able to know exactly what has happened. To be able to do that effectively, they want to be able to record not only audio, but visual; not only inanimate, but animate. You can imagine what that would mean to all car users and the many uses to which we put our cars.
Now, next to your bedroom, which is the most private place you have? It is your car.It is the one place you feel perfectly uninhibited.
I have friends who think out knotty problems or recharge depleted batteries by going on long drives. Thanks to this same technology, cars these days are equipped with DVD for music and films, fridges, and even compartments for food and drinks.
You can hold long conversations with anybody confident that nobody is eavesdropping. For those who live a busy and bohemian lifestyle, it can also be a changing room with shoes and shirts tucked away from prying eyes in the boot.
So for the young— and not so young— a car is a get away place (and that includes all kinds of ‘get away’). It can also be an improvised theatre for frolics and experiments. They say a dog is a man’s best friend. I disagree. In this part of the world, it is a car.
Think of all the things a young man does with a car. Think of the first time you took your dad or uncle’s car. Where did you go? To a girl friend’s place of course. Remember the look of expectation on your face and the excitement in your voice as you offered to take her for a drive knowing what could happen in the car? Remember your first date with a car and the privacy the car gave you on your way back from the movies or was it a party? Remember how serviceable the back seat of a car can be; or the reclining passenger seat?
Those who are old enough will remember the drive-in cinemas in Europe in the 70sand 80s. You –and your date— bought your tickets, your food and drinks and packed your car along with other cinema goers to enjoy the twinkling stars, the dark moon (preferably) and the big screen to your hearts’ delight.
There are other uses for the car of course. How many men have entered their cars ‘to clear the head’ after a quarrel with the ‘old lady’? And, if you are given to duplicity, have driven ‘in anger’ to places you are not supposed to drive to, confident that no one will tell.
Now you have a big brother that is capable of telling. What is worse, there is no knowing who it will tell it to. It is a bit worrisome to realise that ALL your activities in YOUR car can now be used in evidence against you—under the guise of protecting you.
It used to be fun to be young. But with Big Brother popping up in the most unlikely and private places and taking notes, I am not so sure anymore. In fact, I am almost glad I am out of it. Like the crooner B.B King once sang, ‘The Thrill Is Gone’