Automobile Society Essay Topics

Automobiles In American Society

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American Culture and Automobiles
Americans have been crazy about cars since they were invented in 1890. When introduced during the early 1900s, automobiles served as a more powerful and modern mode of transportation and little else. Now in present time the automobile plays a far greater role in American culture. Its popularity is due to its ability to accommodate our desire for individualism, freedom and power. The automobile embodies deep-seated cultural and emotional values that have become an important part of our American culture.
The automobile has come to play a major role in our consumer society, which has, in turn, enabled the car to become a universal experience. As America's population moved out of the cities and into the suburbs, obtaining a driver's license and purchasing that first car became a right of passage for the majority of America's youth. Today nearly every adult has a driver's license and car to drive. This helps us understand why the car is the number one choice when we need to get from place to place.
The car offers the driver a method to exercise power and control. When a driver climbs behind the wheel of a car, he is in command. The driver sees its destination, direction and speed as something determined by him. The car at this point is a motor vehicle designed to cater and respond to the driver's every whim. In this way the car also represents freedom in our massive industrialized culture. It opens the option of a quick escape to the owner and gives them the opportunity to exercise their free will. For a sense of this freedom and power, one only has to get behind the wheel of a powerful muscle car, crank up the stereo and roar off down the road.
Power and control are objects every human seeks. The car has given the average man control over his environment to a degree not accessible anywhere else in his daily routine. The automobile provides something that individuals can be comfortable in, own and slowly master. The driver has complete control over his/her speed, a speed greater than one they could achieve on their own. They have power over the temperature in the car, how there seat is adjusted and what music they listen to. This constant control gives the driver a sense of security.
However some of this freedom is taken away from us by society's need for order in America.

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Traffic rules and regulations limit drivers from obtaining complete freedom just as laws in general limit the American culture. As Americans we live in society in which we can never be completely free. It doesn't matter who you are, there will always be times when our jobs and responsibilities limit our freedom. That is why cars promise escapism as well. They allow us to momentarily leave the pressures and stresses of the intense business world associated with our culture. Advertisers really play toward this notion, with commercials of cars on wild safaris or trudging through the back country.
Automobiles, being very noticeable and highly accessible, have come to express a person's individualism. Even when coming straight off the assembly line, automobiles offer a prepackaged customizable product that is able to demonstrate the uniqueness of individuals and create a cozy, comfortable space that provides a sense of security and personality. For many, a car is an extension of their home and they care for it as if it were nearly a member of the family. And just as a home and its contents tell about a person, so too does a car make a statement about the driver.
Consequently, within the car culture, making a statement with what one drives is unavoidable, despite the absence of intention. This situation is the product of America's reputation as the quintessential car culture, which in turn produces a cluster of beliefs, attitudes, symbols, values, behaviors and institutions which have grown up around the manufacture and use of automobiles (Sanford p.137). Accepting the fact that, like it or not, we are part of the car premise, every individual is responsible for defining their identity and establishing their individualism.
Identities that are established not only represent the individual, but can be seen as a status marker. Many Americans purchase expensive flashy cars to show off their wealth. Celebrities frequently own four or five top-of-the-line cars; they may only primarily use two, the others are just for show. The phrase "You are what you drive." May sound cliché, but it has a serious validity in our culture. Automobiles are modes through which we can express ourselves. They slowly change from a meaningless factory produce motor vehicle, to a rich text able to describe the driver within.
Go to a party, a bar, a blue collar lunch or a church picnic and you can be sure that there are several "car-centric" conversations going on. Cars have become a part of the very fabric of America, a part of the American dream. Within the concept of the individual, motorized mobility, Americans have discovered an entity which caters to their long standing, deep seated desires for power, control, freedom and identity.

Works Cited
Charles Sanford, "Women's Place in American Car Culture," in Lewis, D. ed. The Automobile in American Culture, (Ann Arbor: U of Michigan
P, 1980)
Peter Steinhart, "Our off Road Fantasy," in Lewis, D. ed. The Automobile in American Culture, (Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1980),
Peter Steinhart, "Our off Road Fantasy," in Lewis, D. ed. The Automobile in American Culture, (Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1980),



Automobiles

Seeing the unforeseen follies of autonomous vehicles

18 August 2017

Fully autonomous vehicles? Programmed to be safe, not to crash into me? Hey!  I can ignore it. Drive or walk the street in front of it, regardless of traffic lights.  Deliberately stand in front at an intersection, preventing it from moving forward. Hold a mirror in front of its video or laser sensors - that ought to confuse it.  What a wonderful source for entertainment, tricks, and trouble making. Yup, autonomous vehicles.Norman, D. (2017). Foreseeing an unforeseen consequence. Perspective. Summer...

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01 May 2016

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Interview: Is Tesla Racing Recklessly Towards Driverless Cars?

23 April 2016

Chunka Mui wrote to say he was writing an article on autonomous cars and asked for my thoughts.  He published his article in Forbes , and before I knew it, I was suddenly front and center into the debate about Tesla and autonomy.Here is the article:http://www.forbes.com/sites/chunkamui/2016/04/19/is-tesla-reckless/2/#ea36e8c40a4aAnd here is my response to the (fortunately very few) complaints.  People really love their teslas and do not like any criticism.My reply is:Yes, I have experienced Tesla's autopilot (as well as the pre-release models from other OEMs)....

Ready or not, the fully autonomous car is coming

18 October 2015

My Op-Ed piece for the San Diego Union-Tribune for September 26, 2015. ... Ready for cars with computers as driver? No? Good, because the computers aren't ready either. But have no doubt, they are coming. ... The tremendous saving of lives and injuries is strong support for the development of autonomous vehicles. However, the relentless automation of all that can be automated is not a good thing for society.

Automatic Cars Or Distracted Drivers: We Need Automation Sooner, Not Later

03 June 2015

I have long argued that we need to go slow with automation in the automobile. There were still too many unsolved problems. I have now changed my mind. Why? Because there are far more problems with the increasing number of distractions for drivers, too many new devices, too many new temptations. Imperfect driving is potentially more dangerous than imperfect automation. Add to this the other benefits to those today who are unable to drive: the elderly, the handicapped, and of course the blind. Automation versus distraction? I bet on automation, and the sooner the better.

The Human Side of Automation

25 December 2014

The technological requirements for self-driving cars are extremely complex, and although we are now able to succeed in a very high percentage of the situations, those last few percentages contain the most difficult, the most daunting challenges. As automation gets better and better, then the problems of vigilance increase, for the more reliable the system, the less for a person to do, and the mind wandering begins. Do not take people out of the loop: have them always know what is happening. How do we do this in a meaningful way? By asking people to make high-level decisions, to continually be making decisions. Human pattern recognition and high-level statement of goals and plans are good. But here is what we are bad at: the ability to monitor for long periods, to be precise and accurate, to respond quickly and properly when an unexpected event arrives where the person has not been attending. So, have us do what we are good at. Have the automation do what we are bad at. Aim for collaboration, not supervision.

Stupid Smart Stuff: Watches and Automation

08 March 2014

Whenever you see something labeled "smart" or "intelligent," be assured that it is actually rather stupid. It is time to for the designers and engineers of this coming automated world and take heed from the lessons learned over the years in the field of Human-Systems Integration, in studies of automation. Lots of excellent scientists working in the research labs of automobile companies know all this. Product people are notorious about ignoring the wisdom of research groups in their same company. We now have very smart devices, stupidly done. I fear the consequences will be a lot worse than waking people up at 4:30 in the morning. Pay attention, engineers: pay attention, designers. Pay attention or people will be killed.

Automobile Reviewers: Stuck in the Past

31 May 2012

Like many of you, I live in the 21st century, a time when society is recognizing the damage done to the environment through our inattention to the side effects of our technologies. But one specialized niche of the world still lives in the 20th century: those who write the automobile reviews for magazines and newspapers. Why do automobile reviewers still emphasize appearance (styling), speed, and performance at high speed, often to the exclusion of all else? It is time for a change. Let's have reviewers who do not dwell on the latest exterior design details, horsepower, or acceleration. Let's have reviews addressed to real people and families, reviews that emphasize the environment and the health and safety of both drivers and passengers. Time to enter the 21st Century.

The Future of Automobiles (An Interview)

16 May 2012

I was interviewed by Neil Briscoe for an article in IrishTimes.com: Is the love affair about to end? "Are cars as we know them to become a thing of the past?" asks the article. Where is the room for "Driving passion"? The question, Briscoe points out, is whether we can continue to have single people driving around, each in a ton and a half of metal.

Dashboards for the Passengers

10 June 2006

Drivers have dashboards. But what about the passengers, both in the front and rear seats? Why shouldn’t they too have dashboards? Today, we need places to store and plug in a wide variety of devices: music and video players, game machines and controllers, earphones, cellphones, and computers. Each needs a safe, secure place to be docked, each needs electrical power, and some need to be networked to one another. Someday soon many will need internet connections. And the same facilities have to be provided separately for everyone: the driver, the front passengers and the rear passengers (and in larger vehicles, the third-row passengers). Yes, passengers need dashboards too. One dashboard for each passenger.

Motorist trapped in traffic circle 14 hours

13 April 2006

April 1. Hampstead, MA. Motorist Peter Newone said he felt as if a nightmare had just ended. Newone, 53, was driving his newly purchased luxury car when he entered the traffic circle in the city center around 9 AM yesterday, Friday. The car was equipped with the latest safety features, including a new feature called Lane Keeping. "It just wouldn’t let me get out of the circle," said Newone.

A Time For Standards

02 April 2006

Standards committees face daunting tasks. Nonetheless, the time has come for this one. If we do not standardize the nature of the warning systems, we are apt to create as much harm as good with these systems. We need functional standards that specify the forms by which signals might be given, the nature of the automatic operations that will be performed, and to standardize the controls and displays, so that even drivers new to a vehicle can understand the warning, know what actions to expect, and know how to read the displays and modify their settings. Today, we have a hodge-podge of methods. Hodge-podges and safety do not go hand in hand.

A Car Is for Entertainment

02 April 2006

Let’s face it, the car isn’t just for driving anymore, it’s for almost anything you can imagine (and probably some things you’d rather not). As if the interior design team’s job weren’t difficult enough, not only must they make a safe, comfortable interior, but it must be alluring, inviting, and suitable for a wide variety of activities, many of which are in conflict with one another, let alone with safety and comfort. The car is rapidly becoming an entertainment center.

Complexity again -- Isn't progress wonderful?

02 April 2006

Today we can start the car with ease. But our intrepid automobile interior design teams have compensated for that simplicity. Now you have to learn how to open the doors, how to operate the temperature controls, how to change radio stations. We used to have to take classes to start the engine. Today we need lessons to set the clock. Isn’t progress wonderful?

Interior Design Versus Product Design

02 April 2006

To an outsider like me, someone versed in the field of product design, especially that of high-technology, the world of automotive interior design seems very different, very anachronistic. One theme of this issue is the influence of Product Design, so let me compare that world with automobile interior design.

Complexity of the Modern Automobile-Isn't Progress Wonderful?

21 November 2005

Today we can start the car with ease. But our intrepid automobile interior design teams have compensated for that simplicity. Now you have to learn how to open the doors, how to operate the temperature controls, how to change radio stations. We used to have to take classes to start the engine. Today we need lessons to set the clock. Isn’t progress wonderful?

There's an Automobile in HCI's Future

13 August 2005

Consider the modern automobile. It is a wonder of computation. multiple CPUs, hundreds of miles of cabling. Automatic this and automatic that. Lots of automatic stuff. How do we automate sensibly, controlling some parts of the driving experience, but ensuring that drivers are kept alert and informed -- "in the loop" is the way this is described in aviation safety. The current designs for automobile automation are being done by engineers who are ignorant of the lessons learned from studies of automation. Here we go again. Each new industry fails to learn the lessons of the previous ones. So, once again, here is a field in desperate need of help, yet not quite realizing it. A field with new lessons to learn, and a lot of very old lessons that have to be taught once again.

Universal Design & Auto Design: We Are Getting Older

06 August 2005

I recently watched an elderly lady struggle to extricate herself from the front seat of a car. "Now there is a huge opportunity," I said to myself, "we live in an aging society, yet we still design for the young and able. Why not address this huge, important market?"

There is a tendency to shy away from designing for the impaired. This is a special-interest group, it is feared, one that will drive away other customers. Wrong. Designs intended to make life easier for the elderly or handicapped can be useful for everyone.

Emotional Autos

17 July 2005

DONALD A. NORMAN Originally published in InteriorMotives. You are driving along, about to change lanes, when your car suddenly tenses up. The seatbelts tighten. The seat straightens up, the headrest moves forward. As you turn the wheel to the right, the car starts quivering, buzzing from the right side. “Calm down, ” you say, “I know what I’m doing. ” A nervous, skittish car? A car distrustful of its driver? Sure, why not? Cars are getting real personalities and emotions....

Concept Cars

28 January 2005

Concept cars play an important role in the automobile industry. These exercises are great opportunities to test potential designs. Originally, these were pure explorations in style -- an excuse to let the stylists display their creative juices before returning to the mundane world of production models. But over time, the ideas have developed into a combination of exploration and show. Sometimes the original intention to explore design themes has been taken over by the public relations crew, so the result is an attempt to impress the car-buying public, the press, the executive suite, and, just perhaps, rival designers at competitive companies, which especially means designers of different models within the same company. Some recent examples of concept cars (e.g., from Volvo, GM, and MIT/GM) are insightful, creative, and powerful. And some (e.g., from Ford) are just plain silly.

Facing to the rear

24 October 2004

When I travel in cars, I am a passenger as often as I am a driver. Passengers seem poorly served by the design of most automobile interiors. Why not allow the front seat to face to the rear? Now, suddenly, the front and rear passengers are united. Will passengers dislike it? Suppose it were optional -- great when there is conversation between rear and front, optional otherwise.

Navigation Systems

23 September 2004

Navigation systems can quickly become essential components of driving, especially in unfamiliar locations. They invoke strong feelings among those who use them, but alas, much in the same way we relate to our computers: love and hate seem to alternate. Now that I have experienced them in my own cars, I never want to be without them, except for when I want to throw them out the window.

Cockpit Complexity

23 September 2004

The automobile industry is doing a poor job of designing interior controls -- they are overly complex, difficult to understand, and therefore dangerous to use while driving. It is time to use human-centered design.

The Personality of Automobiles

14 September 2004

Every car has a unique personality, much like every person, and with cars as with people, we infer the personality from three components: visceral, which is mainly looks; behavioral, which is mainly behavior; and reflective, which is mainly reputation.

The Emotional Eye (pun Intended): Introductions

14 September 2004

My introductory column for InteriorMotives. July/August 2004. In this column I introduce myself.

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