I received two nose-hair trimmers as birthday gifts this year. That generosity can be attributed to the fact that I turned 50, and that I have friends with droll senses of humor. As I look back on a half century of life (or at least the part of it I recall–I am a little hazy on the 1965-1970 period) I realize that the biggest technological changes took place after I left high school.
Cell phones, the Internet, accessing the Internet via cell phone…that’s all pretty recent stuff. But one of the changes that troubles me most is sociological, and it involves my daughter…and the smartphone.
Before I get into that, a little background:
I recently took my daughter out for her first-ever spin behind the wheel of an automobile. She’s taking lessons now, and just received her learner’s permit. It’s worth noting that I’ve complicated my daughter’s life by owning only one car, and that car is equipped with a manual transmission. Still, she’s a quick study, and she’ll do fine.
We spent about an hour tooling around a large empty parking lot. Over time, the kid got the hang of allowing the steering wheel to unwind on its own after a turn, and more or less mastered easing off the clutch.
The kid paid attention, did as instructed, and made quick progress. Though all went well, I came to realize she wasn’t having any fun. This is in sharp contrast to my first time behind the wheel, which for me and most of my male contemporaries was not unlike a mechanical wedding night.
Here’s the strange thing: My kid doesn’t want to drive. Really. Nor do her friends. Nor do my cousin’s driving-age kids, or any other teens I have quizzed on the issue.
As I approached 16, there were only two things I could think about: a girl named Dawn, and driving. As Dawn was a young lady of some refinement, she wanted nothing to do with me, so most of my free time was devoted to hazy daydreams of me behind the wheel.
So…why don’t more teens today want to drive? Because they don’t need to. Blame the smartphone. Think about it. In 1982, when I obtained my license, there were only two ways to communicate with friends: by phone, and in person.
And, at least in the homes of my friends and me, phone usage was a strictly regulated privilege that came with frequent mid-conversation parental reminders that we’d been hogging the line long enough.
Teens today (or at least my teen) know nothing of waiting to use the phone. In fact, they rarely make calls.
Thanks to my daughter’s iPhone and school-provided iPad (both of which include chat-room apps) my kid is in contact with her friends 100 percent of the time. At any given moment, the kid is party to at least half a dozen rambling conversations, all taking place via text, and none of which requires an actual call, much less a car.
Remove the social component from the list of reasons to drive, and all that’s really left is the gearhead factor–and high-school gearheads are few and far between these days.
It struck me this past weekend that when I was in high school, cars not only provided access to my friends–cars were where I hung out with my friends. I spent countless nights with buddies rambling around the sleepy Chicago suburbs we called home. In our freshly waxed rides we violated traffic laws, talked about girls, and stopped for the occasional Slurpee.
And while my daughter will miss the fun of cramming four friends into the back seat of a Pontiac Ventura, it’s also likely she’ll never have to appear in traffic court to explain why she was doing 85 mph in a 45 mph zone—or riding around with seven people in a Ventura.
I envy that my mother got to pick up the kitchen extension to remind me that I’d been tying up the line for 20 minutes. Maybe I could text my daughter to let her know that charging her iPad isn’t cheap—except that it really is.
So, my kid doesn’t want to drive, and your kids, should you have them, are likely less interested in piloting a car than you were. These auto-indifferent adults of tomorrow are the very reason I am convinced that the autonomous car will replace actual driving. How can you text six friends at the same time if you’re busy with brakes and a steering wheel?
Why Don’t Teens Want to Drive