“I will die before I buy another car,” Kara Swisher declared in an opinion piece published last week in The New York Times.
Her article, “Owning a Car Will Soon Be as Quaint as Owning a Horse,” predicts the impending end to widespread private vehicle ownership. Instead, she suggests, “Owning a car will soon be like owning a horse — a quaint hobby, an interesting rarity and a cool thing to take out for a spin on the weekend.”
In her not-that-distant vision of our future, she sees us using car-sharing companies and riding on scooters and in autonomous vehicles owned by someone other than ourselves.
Swisher’s beat is technology, and she notes that she was among those who was early and apparently eager to cut the landline phone service and to go “all mobile.” Next up: “You start using car-sharing services, you don’t use your car as often, you realize as these services proliferate that you actually don’t need to own a car at all.”
Her decision apparently was made easier when her car, a Ford Fiesta Turbo she named Frank, recently had its clutch conk out on a hill in San Francisco. Frank, she writes, is for sale and she’s not buying a replacement.
Two observations: (1) People I know who own horses wouldn’t call it a “quaint” hobby, but rather a time-consuming and expensive one about which they are extremely passionate; (2) I found it interesting that Swisher’s Frank has a manual transmission since she apparently lives in hilly San Francisco (where she reportedly has aspirations to run for mayor).
Frank’s manual gearbox leads me to another New York Times opinion piece, this one from this past weekend. “Bring Back the Stick Shift” argues Vatsal G. Thakkar, a clinical assistant professor at the New York University School of Medicine.
Thakkar writes about driver distraction and inattention fed by advanced technology driver aids and software glitches that can lead to disaster and notes, “A car with a stick shift and clutch pedal requires the use of all four limbs, making it difficult to use a cellphone or eat while driving. Lapses in attention are therefore rare, especially in city driving where a driver might shift gears a hundred times during a trip to the grocery store.”
He cites a study in which teenage boys with A.D.H.D. drove more attentively when driving cars with manual transmissions, and suggests “the cure for our attention voids might be less technology, not more.”
Thakkar writes that he’s owned cars with manual transmissions since graduating from med school 20 years ago, and hopes they’re still around by the time his own children are ready to learn to drive.
“Sadly,” he notes, “sales of manual transmissions are falling, and many automakers… are discontinuing the option in the United States.”
Maybe Thakkar should call Swisher, not to talk about articles, but simply to negotiate a deal to buy Frank.