Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A Keyless World

You know what’s strange about the new minivan?  You don’t need a key to start it.

Seriously, you don’t.  They give you this little fob that you stick on your keychain, and as long as it’s anywhere in the vicinity of the car when you sit down all you have to do is push a button and there you go.

We had a car like that when I was a kid.  It was a 1964 Malibu, metallic turquoise and roughly the size of the apartment I lived in when I was in Pittsburgh.  It had been my grandfather’s, and when he bought a new one in 1971 he gave the Malibu to us.  All you had to do to start it was twist the flanges on the keyslot – no key required.

My mother never locked that car.  She always maintained that if someone was desperate enough to steal it they probably ought to have it.  Eventually we sold it to the neighbor for $50 and he ran it back and forth to the Jersey shore for years.  Last we heard, in the early 80s, he sold it to a college kid for $25.  It may yet be running.

On the one hand, the whole fob thing is convenient, I suppose.  You just keep it in your pocket and you’re always ready.  No more fumbling around with keys when you’re trying to carry things.  No contorting your body to find your keys in your pocket after you’ve already sat down and buckled in.  Plus, Kim discovered last night that our fobs are different and that the minivan can recognize that.  This means that we can set up our preferences separately and it will automatically adjust to whomever is in the car.

On the other hand, well.

How does it know who is driving and who just has their fob with them in the passenger seat?  Will there be duels?  Can it triangulate who is closest to the steering wheel or will it just choose randomly? 

And when did vehicles stop being machines and start being sentient?  When did cars develop preferences?  That’s kind of disturbing.  Someday I fully expect to try to start it up and hear “I’m sorry, Dave.  I’m afraid I can’t do that,” and then it will set things up the way it thinks they ought to be set up and I’ll end up trapped in some never-ending loop of air-conditioning and John Tesh, forever on the move and only rolling by the house at lunchtime so Kim can toss me a sandwich like I’m Charlie on the MTA.

Plus, I still find myself scrabbling around for the key every time I go to turn it off.  I sort of gently flail at where the key ought to be for a while before it occurs to me that I no longer need to do that. 

The other thing that is odd about the whole fob thing is that you can use it to unlock the car just by having it in your pocket and pulling gently on the door handle.  There will be a little beep, and then everything is unlocked.  Convenient!

Except that you can never be sure that you’ve actually locked the doors, because every time you go to test whether they’re locked or not there will be a little beep and everything is unlocked. 

So we’re still getting used to having the new minivan, is what I’m saying.

We have made progress on naming front, though.  Currently the leading candidate is “Carl,” which is a perfectly fine name though if it wins I can already see pressure to change the name of the other car to “Ellie.”

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