The information age is in full swing. If you name any product, chances are that someone is selling a version of it that can connect to the internet and offers a wealth of different features that complement its original function. From televisions to refrigerators, a person’s entire house can be connected to a single, unified network – and their car is no exception.
It wasn’t much more than a decade ago – if that – that Bluetooth was a curious new addition to a driver’s experience on the road. Now, every consumer model of car comes equipped with a vast array of digital features as standard. Updated in real-time, maps will direct you around traffic and other potential sources of delays during the course of your journey, calculating alternate routes in moments. Endless amounts of music can accompany your travels, while passengers might stream more visual forms of media at will, or charge their own devices from the car’s USB ports. Even autopilot – once seen as the musings of Sci-Fi authors – has cemented itself as a realistic prospect, with numerous manufacturers pouring resources and funds into the development of this fascinating new frontier of technology.
Every minute counts
Indeed, having your entire life connected in such a way presents a number of immediate advantages that seem quite appealing to most. Devices once thought to have simple, singular functions can be given new ones, upgrading them and integrating them more fully into someone’s daily routine. One’s car can be synced up to their alarm clock, starting it up at a certain time when they are ready to embark on the daily commute, with the temperature already adjusted to their liking. The time and effort saved might seem minuscule to outside observers – after all, it doesn’t take much beyond the initial setup and installation to flick a switch and have the car running and ready for the day. But it adds up.
All throughout the day, little things can be tweaked and optimised, tailored to you by highly intelligent AIs. A few minutes saved by slight changes to your morning routine, ten minutes here and there as delays in traffic are circumvented, even an hour or two at the weekend where your weekly groceries are delivered instead of needing to be gathered. In a world as hectic as ours, those extra minutes can be invaluable moments of rest and respite, and the convenience offered by a series of interconnected amenities can provide peace of mind and changes to a daily routine that aren’t appreciated until they are really thought about.
Incorporating the internet more and more into your life can seem an appealing idea with so many benefits at the tips of your fingers. Data and automation are but a few taps away with interconnectivity on such a level – and with technology such as Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa, voice commands can be used instead, further streamlining your life and helping to organise and optimise your time.
The illusion of being in control
Even with the myriad benefits available to users with interconnected technology, there still exist drawbacks that many would consider being deal-breakers, despite the apparent advantages. For example, control. If a device is disconnected from any outside influences, you have complete control over it. A coffee maker might have to be operated manually, but it will only ever do what you tell it to. A car will need regular servicing and maintenance to perform at peak condition, but it will do what you ‘tell’ it to. In regards to vehicles, every feature that is present on it is under your control and is yours to do with as you please.
However, the same rules don’t apply for interconnected devices. Although each device operates under your command and to your preferences, its functionality is far removed from your control. This is most visible every time a software update changes the experience of using an interconnected device. Most of the time, an update adds new features or simply streamlines the experience of existing ones. But it can prove wildly unpopular as well, with some removing functionality that users were fond of, or implementing new features that don’t work or are simply considered inferior or unnecessary. With a disconnected vehicle, this is hardly an issue, but Tesla owners were forced to confront this reality.
Despite not having asked for it at the point of purchase, numerous buyers of Tesla Model S found that they were able to use the autopilot and full self-driving functionality free-of-charge – functions that would normally cost a significant amount of money. Once Tesla began to catch on to what was happening, an audit was performed on cars that were affected by this, and – despite customers having purchased the vehicles under the assumption that they were paying for those functions – premium features were shut off. Tesla did offer to sell the features back to consumers, but by that point, it was too late. Months of public outcry later, Tesla reinstated the features. Regardless of who is in the right regarding that matter – and to what degree – it raises an important point. Manufacturers could, at any time they choose, change how their devices function, or even stop them from functioning entirely.
Overall, interconnectivity between devices offers a great deal of convenience, that much cannot be denied, but it could be argued that the price a customer pays when buying such an item is the control that they might have over a less connected version. Ultimately, the decision on what type of device to buy rests with the individual. Is convenience valued over control? Or is ownership more valuable to the consumer than the benefits that a network of devices might bring?