What technology says about us

If you have an electric car, you’re more likely to get a girlfriend. At least, that’s what Top Gear’s irascible host, Jeremy Clarkson, said when he and colleague James May test drove two such cars last season. Cars have always been totems of pop culture, but it seems that efficiency and environmental awareness have trumped performance and style in the public’s eye. If that’s the case, is it time for desperate single men to trade their Mustangs for Nissan Leafs (Leaves?)?

The new definition of cool? Image courtesy of Wired.com.

Humans would not have survived this long without technology, but not every piece of tech is created equal. Some machines and gadgets are more than just tools, they capture the imagination. That’s why there are so many songs about cars, and why a well-placed Dodge Charger can liven up any bad movie.

It wasn’t just the cars themselves: the lifestyle surrounding them had its own mystique. Seeing America by car inspired Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and the photographs of Robert Frank, among others. For Twentieth Century Americans, the car was an engineering marvel, a sculpture, and a piece of folklore.

Now we’re in the Twenty-First Century, and we have a new piece of epoch-defining technology: electronics. If you don’t have an Internet-enabled device, you’re nobody. This trend has led people to reassess their feelings for the car. Upon doing so, they find that cars are expensive to buy and maintain, the fuel they consume threatens national security and the environment, and many of them look the same anyway.

Practical concerns, it seems, have taken away some of the car’s romance. But, in addressing those practical concerns, the game hasn’t really changed. It might take years to travel coast to coast on batteries, but the important thing is that the electric car driver will project an image of environmental awareness, of being a good person.

High style and high emissions. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Cars have always been about projecting images their drivers think will impress other people. The eco-aura of a Leaf is the same as the sex appeal of a Corvette or the yuppy-ness of a BMW. Clarkson is right: people want to be seen as environmentally conscious. Whether women will find the whirr of an electric motor attractive is another story.

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