I don’t think people who lived long ago truly understood anger. As far as I can tell, you only discover how angry you can get when you use a computer or drive a car. Of course, these things anger us for different reasons. A computer is infuriating as only something that is for all intents and purposes magical can be the day it doesn’t work. It’s like a limp wand. You can’t open it up and you can’t throw it across the room without breaking it or risking the sort of magic you don’t want to see. Yet you know that it’s not really the computer’s fault. There is someone, somewhere, whose fault it actually is, and you’d like to kill this person. When you drive a car, it is simpler. There is also someone you’d like to kill, but you know where this person is—in the next car.
I preempt all of this anger by getting angry before I start. That way, I figure, I don’t have to wait until something happens. I can get nicely worked up beforehand, and be ready when it does. I’m primed for hesitant drivers in their Prii—which, believe it or not, is the preferred plural of Prius—for stove-sized pedestrians, reverse parkers, and the like. The anger is less than useless, of course, but I’ve decided to embrace it against all self-help softness. If I cannot compose myself, I might as well compose long sentences using only swear words.
But nothing prepares you for the modern car. The modern car offers all the opportunities for rage that we’ve come to expect from older cars, but it has a computer inside of it and this adds an orthogonal dimension of outrage. My Ford Escape is a modest car as cars go, but a modern car nonetheless. It came equipped with a computer that is voiced by a synthesised woman who sounds positively post-coital. When I get into this Ford I might as well forget about the ire inspired by other drivers, and get ready for anger of the combined kind.
“Doong—doong—doong,” the Ford goes until I buckle up.
At this point, seconds in, I’m already seething. Who decided to let cars enforce a law? I wear a seat belt because it makes sense, but I feel ready to rebel when the car insists that I do. I’m surprised they haven’t yet mandated that cars refuse to start until you’re strapped in and have submitted to a quick eye exam and a breathalyser test.
“Call Mia,” I say after pressing the voice command button.
“I didn’t get that,” the sleepy woman intones. “You can say, navigate to, or…”
“Call Mia!” I try again.
“Mamma Mia,” Siri cuts in from my phone, having somehow felt summoned, “here we go again, by Abba.”
At this point, I’m probably a few hundred meters from where I started, but I’m ready to kill the next guy in a Prius. All of this is sort of normal and happens more or less every time I get into my car. The apex of anger, however, can only be reached with the help of the navigation system.
“Obey traffic laws,” the sleepy woman slurs at an intersection where I desperately need the system to kick in and tell me which way to turn, “and use voice commands while driving.”
By the time she gets through all of her warnings and tells me what to do, I’ve had to turn the wrong way and am swept along in a concatenation of swearing.
“Rerouting,” she interrupts Frida and Agnetha who wail blue since the day we parted.
The truly infuriating aspect of the navigation system is its indifference in the face of our anger. Rerouting is not what Mia would say. If we ever get truly intelligent navigation systems, I hope that they also act the way humans would.
“What the fuck!?” I’d like the system of the future to shriek. “You meathead! I said left!”
But it’s no use. By the time we can have a system like that, we’d be strapped in the back seat, driven around by the car itself. Who knows, perhaps I’m wrong about anger and computers and cars. Perhaps real anger is the destiny of the people of the future who will helplessly watch as the self-driving Prius ahead of them hesitates and slows down for no reason whatsoever.