When Cars Were Dumb

Classic early smart car from Google (2010).

A smart car among the dumb: classic early smart car from Google (2010).

None of my students has ever driven a car. They have never had to. By the time they were born–mostly in the early 2040s–the self-driving smart car had decisively replaced the historic automobile, now known pejoratively, and somewhat unfairly, as the “dumb car.” Trying to get my students to understand a world in which people had to actually drive their cars is one of my biggest challenges as a history professor.

I confess that I, too, have trouble imagining a world in which human beings actually had to start, accelerate, turn, and stop their vehicles.  My father, Gabriel Joseph (yes, the renowned surgeon), is one of that last generation of Americans to take “driver’s ed” and get a “driver’s license”.  He started driving in 2015. By the time I was born in 2030, the transition to driverless cars was well underway. Every so often Dad would give me a few pointers on driving, just for old-times-sake. I was happy to indulge him. Once I even took his old classic dumb 2006 Toyota Sienna minivan for a quick “spin”. I made it down the road a couple of blocks until the police stopped me for driving. Continue reading