Driving from Boston, we must have had at least 50 computer-like devices in the car.
Both Lauren and I had iPhones. I connected my iPhone to the car speakers via the Bluetooth (if we flew back overnight that would be on the Red Eye, which is not related to this conversation). I had downloaded podcasts to the iPhone. Using the remote control keypads on the steering wheel, I directed the car’s automatic sound system to the Bluetooth, where a selection of podcasts awaited. We listened to Tom Ashbrook from NPR and another podcast called “Backseat Rider”, where a Lyft driver interviewed his passengers about various topics.
In between podcasts, we changed to a separate iPod which was somehow connected to the car via the wiring compartment. This iPod was previously my daughter’s, but she no longer needed it, having moved onto to some new and better technology (holograms?). So now this ancient iPod was mine. I had baby boomer music loaded on it. We chose from a selection of non-screaming music like the Beatles and Billy Joel.
Outside our car window, technology buzzed on the interstate. Variable message signs had nothing of importance to say that day, so the writers were reduced to communicating things like “Wear Safety Belts!” and “Be Nice to Your Pets!”.
The Massachusetts Department of Transportation had recently installed a group of mileage signs that provided times to destinations. Each sign listed a destination and how long it would take to get to it, in real time. I thought these signs were terrific. The technology was based on smart phones. Routines had been developed to evaluate signals from drivers’ smart phones to and from cell towers. By evaluating a progression of signals, it could be determined how fast or slow vehicles were moving on a particular segment of highway. This, in turn, could be used to calculate time to destinations by adding up particular segments. The whole thing was automated and flashed on the highway signs.
It was interesting that in some cases, freeways that were wide open had time reports that seemed slower than the actual time. For a destination that was 10 miles away, the signs might report that it took 11 minutes to get there. With everyone driving 70 mph on average, arrival would be a few minutes less than 11 minutes. But if the speed limit was 55 mph, it looked like the signs had been programmed with a step function to report arrival at the slower, legal speed. So while in reality, everyone was speeding, the electronic signs were following the speed limit.
Toll booths had recently been replaced by all-electronic tolling. So Lauren procured for me an E-ZPass, a transponder that communicated with the new overhead tolling gantries. The E-ZPass automatically paid MassPike and bridge tolls with no muss and fuss. It also would conveniently replenish itself by charging my credit card. If the E-ZPass wanted to go on a bender, it could probably do so automatically before I caught on.
Both of our IPhones had access to GPS, in addition to the separate Garmin device. One GPS program was called “WAZE”. It provided not only directions and traffic congestion information , but it also alerted drivers about upcoming radar traps. With some confidence, a driver could exceed the speed limit by double digits until ¼ of mile or so before a radar trap, and then slow down with no one being the wiser. Patrol cars apparently had not yet been equipped with “ANTI- WAZE”. Even so, speeding was usually not an issue for me. This was because my car's the extensive control panel reported live gas mileage. To save gas and the earth, I drove at a comfortably slow speed. My car approved, automatically updating the display of excellent gas mileage.
The depth and breadth of technology guiding our ride was breathtaking, from the vantage point of what was available only a decade ago. Even this seemed to be the tip of the iceberg, as driverless cars are now poised to make their appearance on the interstate. The improving technology is awesome and human-enabling, except perhaps in the Terminator movies when future traffic network software because sentient and decides to annihilate humankind. But that has not actually happened, in part because Arnold has moved on to become the boss replacing the previous boss who moved on to become the President.
Through it all, we still go stuck in several traffic jams. So the technology hasn’t yet fixed that, but we had many new devices to listen to and play with during extended periods of bumper-to- bumper slogs.