QUAY: Welcome To The Future, Where Your Tools Become Your Masters

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Grayson Quay News & Opinion Editor
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There are few driving experiences more irritating than having a drama queen in your passenger seat. She (and it’s always a she) doesn’t even have to say anything. Clutching the grab handle as you take the on-ramp, sharply inhaling as you beat a red light, glancing nervously out the window as you change lanes — these subtle critiques are enough to enrage even a patient man. 

And if California has its way, soon you’ll have an automated scold riding shotgun at all times, even when you’re driving alone.

A new bill, “which passed its first vote in the state Senate on Tuesday,” would require that “all new cars sold in the state by 2032 to beep at drivers when they exceed the speed limit by at least 10 mph,” The Associated Press explains

The proposed “one-time visual and audio signal” works by comparing the car’s speedometer reading and GPS coordinates to a database of speed limit data in real time. And because California accounts for such a large share of the U.S. market, automakers would end up adding this feature to every single car that rolls off the line.

One reason to be suspicious of this legislation is that its author is none other than Democratic state Sen. Scott Wiener, best known for his tireless efforts to promote the diddling and mutilation of minors in the great state of California. (RELATED: California Democrats Scale Back Bill Intended To Strengthen Laws Against Purchasing Child Sex)

Another is that, while the bill is supposed to reduce traffic fatalities, there are also potential safety risks. According to a 1996 fact sheet from the National Motorists Association, “federal and state studies have consistently shown that the drivers most likely to get into accidents in traffic are those traveling significantly below the average speed.” A study conducted by the Institute of Transportation Engineers found that “those driving 10 mph slower than the prevailing speed are six times as likely to be involved in an accident.”

This means that, in some cases, driving the speed limit can be more dangerous than speeding. Motorists who slow down to silence the California beeps might be putting their lives at risk.

More importantly, though, this bill is soy-munching safetyism straight out of “Demolition Man.” Picture all the great American road trips — “Grapes of Wrath,” “Smokey and the Bandit,” Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” — only with an annoying-ass chirp constantly going off in the background. We live in a big, spacious, continent-spanning country that has shaped our identity from the days of the earliest settlers. Much of that rugged individualism and pioneer spirit lives on in car culture. Opening up your Dodge Challenger on an empty stretch of highway is your God-given right as an American, and no soulless machine has the right to scold you for it.

“In Soviet Russia, car drives you” is a variation on a joke that’s nearly a century old. The Soviet Union is long gone, but the pattern of inversion Americans once mocked is slowly becoming an inescapable reality. The more we embrace the “internet of things” — which connects previously analogue devices to the digital information ecosystem — the more our tools become our masters.

As writer Clare Coffey put it in a recent article for The New Atlantis, “Personal technology used to be a machine. Now it’s a bureaucracy.” Coffey asks the reader to consider her family’s old radio from the 1970s. “You turned a knob, and sound came on, because the knob controlled the mechanism that tuned the radio to the broadcast that the big metal radio towers dotting the landscape beamed at you,” she wrote. “There are no downloads, no platforms, no passwords, no little pull-down menus, no verifications or account recovery protocols. There is no streaming.”

Smart devices put you at the mercy of the tech companies behind them.

Modern electric vehicles require frequent software updates from the manufacturer, and glitches can cause serious problems, including “unexpected loss of motive power.” Compare that to an old, non-computerized Ford truck. Somebody could dynamite every single Ford office, factory and dealership, and the old workhorse wouldn’t know the difference as long as you kept feeding it gasoline and motor oil. (RELATED: Biden Jacks Up Tariffs On Chinese Electric Vehicles, Critical Minerals)

If you buy a DVD at Wal-Mart, the relationship ends there. The store won’t dispatch a blue-vested ninja to break into your house and steal or stealth-edit your box set of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” Hulu, on the other hand, can do either by tweaking a few lines of code (and, in fact, it already has). 

Your dumb fridge from the 1980s will never lock down your account (and your groceries) because you posted a racist tweet.

The California law would present a fairly minor annoyance, all things considered. You can just ignore the beep. But the principle of creating devices that monitor how we use them and reprimand us when we step out of line is a dangerous one. It inverts the millennia-old relationship between man and his tools. It makes us docile and dependent instead of competent and free. And if it continues to progress, soon the things we own will end up owning us.

Grayson Quay is an editor at the Daily Caller.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller.