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What We Really Want: A Car That's Fully Over-Loaded

August 02, 2000|MARY McNAMARA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Forget the politicians, forget the priests. Forget the activists, the radio therapists, the self-help gurus. Forget Oprah. The only entity that really understands us, in all our fickle, duplicitous, contradictory splendor is the auto industry.

Like the psychic stalker in a Stephen King short story, the auto industry knows what we want, regardless of what we say.

We whine that our kids spend too much time in front of the television or brain-meld with video games--and the auto industry gives us screens embedded in the back of the driver seat or suspended from the roof of the minivan.

We complain about inattentive drivers too busy yakking on their cell phones to use their turn signals--and it gives us electronic address book features and a port to connect our Palm pilot.

We decry the homogenization of culture--and it gives us cable radio stations so we can traverse the continental United States without ever hearing a local accent.

We moan that we are multi-tasking ourselves into an early grave--and it gives us the technology to make theater reservations, get stock prices and exchange data with our computers from our cars. So now we can feel guilty if, in addition to delivering the entire soccer team to its various doorsteps, we haven't also traded a few thousand shares and written a screenplay along the way.

If necessity is the mother of invention, then a Cadillac with an infrared thermal night-vision screen is a motherless child.

Yet when we read of these innovations, the only sound louder than our protests will be that of the herds thundering to car dealerships.

But before we all go dashing off to Cerritos Auto Square, let's take a deep breath and do some non-infrared imaging. Let's put ourselves and our children in a minivan with a television screen. (That's television screen singular, children plural.) Think the fights over who gets to sit in the front seat are annoying? And even if they do agree on a video game or movie, do you really need to hear the dialogue from "Toy Story," which you can already recite in your sleep, gnawing at the back of your head while you try to negotiate the 101/134 split in Burbank? Why, the soothing tones of just about any video game, even if muffled by earphones, will have you simply longing for the days of "did so, did not, did so, Mom, he's touching meeeee. . . ."

And how is the next generation going to learn of such obscure historical figures as Eleanor Roosevelt and Jonas Salk if we don't force them to play 20 Questions just like our parents forced us?

We might want to consider the human factor before ordering the new satellite radio systems, the ones that will put 100 national channels at our fingertips.

Now imagine the countless hours you will spend as you or someone you love flips through 100 radio stations in search of the elusive perfect song or traffic report.

Are we really willing to pay extra for this?

The auto industry knows: of course we are. And then we'll complain some more about how we don't have any quiet time, about how people seem to be such terrible drivers these days, about how we don't know what our kids are thinking because they never talk to us. Really, all we want is a simple life--friends, family . . .

And the Batmobile.

*

Mary McNamara can be reached by e-mail at mary.mcnamara@latimes.com.

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