Interaction Temporarily Paused

  • May 18, 2023

The 2023 VW ID.4 I’m test driving this week – more about that here – isn’t just an electric car.

It is a parenting car.

It will “temporarily pause” your ability to change the radio station – which you do by using the tap/swipe cell phone interface built into the dashboard  – if it thinks you have taken your eyes off the road. Which you have to do, because you cannot tell by feel what you’re doing when using a tap/swipe cell phone interface – i.e., the LCD touchscreen built into the dashboard.

Franz Kafka, phone home!

Almost all new and recent-model cars have these things, chiefly because they are cheap (to install) yet look fancy.

Electronics are one of the very few things that cost less to manufacture each year and so there is more profit in selling them. LCD touchscreens  have been sold to people – in cars – because people have to buy them, if they want to buy the car. It’s a great way to reduce manufacturing costs and increase profits (including via the mining of your “data,” for which you are not paid a cut).

They also “clean up” the dashboard, eliminating buttons and switches that were formerly used to control various functions, such as the heater and air conditioning.

And the audio system.

Now – in many cars – almost everything is controlled via the tap/swipe interface built into the dash, obliging you to tap and swipe. But that is distracting – just like the smartphone they say you’re not supposed to tap/swipe while driving. And so they built into the car a monitoring system that “temporarily pauses” your ability to exercise any control over the smartphone screen they built into the car – preventing you from changing the radio station, for instance – if the car thinks you are “distracted.”

It can see that – via eye-movement monitors that you can’t see unless you use a video camera. If you want to see these sensors, pan the dash area with a camera; then you’ll then see these strange metronomically blinking red lights. Those are the sensors. If they see you are looking at what you’re not supposed to – according to the car’s programming – then the car will “temporarily pause” whatever it was you were trying to do.

Like change the channel.

But not just that.

Implicit in this tech is the power to “temporarily pause” any number of things the car – and those who control it – wish to.

Acceleration, for instance.

Push down to aggressively on that pedal and the car may just push back (in fact, cars equipped with fully enabled Speed Limit Assistance Technology – as it is marketed – do exactly that). It is not even necessary, in the mechanical sense, for the car to push back on the accelerator because it is also electronic. All you’re doing when you push down on it is sending a signal that is interpreted by the computer that controls the car, which then decides to let the engine rev (or the motor spin, if the car is electric) to the degree you have requested.

But that request can easily be countermanded.

Just as happened when I tried to use the touchscreen the car forces me to use, in order to change the radio station. The eye-movement sensors sensed I was looking at the screen, which you have to do in order to be able to see where to tap/swipe (as well as how much, in this case, because one tap moves the channel up one or down one; if you want a channel that’s farther down or up you have to tap multiple times – like a seagull at the beach pecking at a piece of tinfoil).

Meanwhile, you could have just turned a knob – and not had to look while you did.

But knobs – and other physical controls, such as buttons  – are so  . . . analog. They don’t have the seagull-pecking-at-tinfoil appeal of tapping and swiping a glowing screen. Well, to some – who have grown up addicted to pecking at their phones, like a seagull entranced by a piece of tinfoil.

They are also used to being parented by devices, which is what cars have become – especially electric ones, which are fundamentally very large smartphones.

The latter term is etymologically interesting, too – in that “smart” has come to mean those who use such devices are presumed to be dull.

The same goes for “pro” – often used in close context, as for example the (literally) Pro version of this VW electric car that comes with the optional battery and standard with driver-pre-emption electronics  . . . such as eye-movement sensors that send signals to a computer controller that temporarily pauses your former right to be in control of your car.

In other words, you are a “Pro” in the same way that a child afflicted with Down Syndrome is “special.” Like such a child, you are in need of assistance.

And if you don’t want it, you’ll get it anyhow.

. . .

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