One persistent criticism of consumer society is that it makes individuals passive and dependent. Christopher Lasch says we have become overly reliant on “externally produced goods,” and, on top of that, when it comes especially to our electronic gadgets, most of the time we don’t have the faintest idea about how these “goods” work. Once upon a time, back in the 60’s, while my knowledge was far from complete, I had a general idea how a car worked. I could fix the brakes, and replace the head gasket; I could rebuild a carburetor. But now, since fuel injection, I don’t believe cars have carburetors. I believe they have computers, though I have no idea where these might be located. Additionally, I have no idea how a computer works.
I have heard that one type of car no longer has a dipstick. I mean how is one even to pretend that one knows something about a car if one cannot pop the hood and look knowingly at the dipstick.
A horrible instance of this dependence (and its attendant lack of understanding) is the recent story of the run away Lexus. This car was driven by a man in law enforcement; he knew something about driving cars. Still he was unable to stop his car when it reached 125 miles per hour. The car crashed and all four persons inside died.
When people can no longer make their car’s engine stop, something has gone hay-wire.
Apparently, this version of the Lexus has no key. Instead one has a fob. One pushes a button on the fob and then one pushes another button in the car and the car starts. I guess I still don’t understand exactly what happened. Why couldn’t the driver have pushed the button in the car to get the engine to stop. I feel helpless even thinking about it.
According to an expert, a driver of such a Lexus might have been able to stop the car if he or she had pushed the button on the fob. But if he or she repeatedly and quickly pushed the button on the fob, it wouldn’t work. One has to push the button on the fob for three seconds steadily. But in the manual for the car one was warned not to do this since one would lose power steering and power brakes.
The first car I drove did not have a manual. Now, an expert says that truly to inform car owners about the features of their cars, the manual would have to be a thousand pages long.
I have had it. I will not be able to make the next techno-step, whatever it might be. I simply refuse to read a 1000 page manual on how a car works. If I ever have to buy a new car, I will make sure it has a key that turns the car engine both on and off. I will also insist on a dipstick.
Still, perhaps the argument is all wrong. Back in the olden days, people didn’t know how a cow worked either, and they were plenty happy for the milk.
But then they had magic to explain everything.