Friday, October 29, 2021

Not that smart

A lot has been said about the connected smart car. A LOT.

Oh, it sure sounds cool: your vehicle as an addition to your devices, an extension of your modern connected lifestyle. 

But then my husband’s job went and gave him a company car equipped with a bunch of connected technology. And let me just come out and say: we’ve all been duped. Cars don’t need to be giant versions of anybody’s smartphone. Why? I’ll tell you why.

Let’s start with music. Before all this connectivity madness, if you wanted to listen to the car radio, you pressed a button or turned a dial. If you wanted to listen to a CD, you simply slipped a disc into the dedicated slot.

But not in our new connected car, no sir. The whole central dashboard is just one big screen. No radio knobs. No CD slot. Only a lonely “home” button. Where do you put your CD? “NOWHERE” is the answer. You put it nowhere, because judging from our car, CD’s are clearly old-school and therefore obsolete.

Same thing goes for the radio. Where is the tuner? It’s hidden inside a menu inside another menu that you can only access by fiddling around with the big dashboard screen. Don’t like the volume level? More fiddling around in menus and submenus.

I’m a consumer. I don’t recall voicing any desire at all for my in-car listening experience to become so pointlessly complicated.

But let’s move on.

How about Bluetooth? Heretofore, I kind of liked Bluetooth; it let me listen to music from my Deezer account through our wireless home speaker, which was neat.

But in the car, I would call Bluetooth a liability at best and life-threatening at worst. Know what happens the instant we climb into ours? Bluetooth detects our phones, and starts automatically playing music from phantom playlists we didn’t even know we had. Simply trying to make the sound system stop doing that is enough to send one off the road and into a ravine. Who came up with this and where should I send my hate mail?

Another “perk” of Bluetooth: notifications. Good God, why why why? For instance, let’s take WhatsApp. WhatsApp bombards us with notifications, which, because of the connectedness of our car, all appear at the top of the dashboard screen accompanied by a notification sound. Now, it just so happens that the volume of this particular app’s notifications came pre-set on “ear-splitting,” meaning every notification blasted through the speakers as BEEEEP!!! thus causing my heart to systematically leap straight out of my chest. But for the life of me I could not find the car volume settings for WhatsApp, despite digging through every last menu and submenu in the whole damn system. I ultimately had to consult some online chat group to find the solution. Again, WHY?

The one place where Bluetooth could actually contribue something helpful in the car is hands-free phone calls. Someone calls you, and the call is sent straight to the sound system, thus liberating your hands for other tasks, namely messing with your GPS holding the steering wheel. Except that the “benefit” of Bluetooth calls is limited to folks who drive ALONE. In a car full of people, in which NO ONE wants to hear your private conversation, much less in surround sound, this feature is truly terrible. Also, what happens if one’s mistress calls while one’s wife is sitting right there in the passenger seat? I mean this is France. I bet that totally happens.

And while we’re on the topic of voice, let’s discuss Google Assistant. I have long learned to avoid using it with, say, our remote control; it clearly finds my American accent to be incomprehensible. But my husband, who is French, does not have much more luck with it than I do. Why? Because the technology is crap, that’s why. When he receives a text in the car, for example, Google Assistant offers to read it to him out loud. If he agrees, the assistant reads the messages INCLUDING THE PUNCTUATION AND THE EMOJIS. This leads to such utterly surreal results as, “Can you bring a bottle of wine to the party question mark smiley face confetti fireworks cake smiley face.” And when the “assistant” is done reading, it asks whether my husband wants to respond. Regardless of what he answers, the robotic voice pauses for a moment, then says, “I’m sorry. I didn’t understand. Do you want to respond?” This can go on for several minutes, usually resulting in palpable irritation inside the car, without mentioning the increased likelihood of a potentially fatal accident outside the car. Thanks, Google.

So in conclusion, the term “smart” is highly relative when applied to the car. And as a recent visit to an automobile museum reminded me, people have been rolling along in perfect comfort for quite some time now, blissfully unaware of connected technology. I say its time to bring back the dumb cars.

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