x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

The Air Bag: An iPad on wheels? Not for me, thanks

The car, for me at least, has always been a four-wheeled bubble that allows some peace and quiet, away from the ridiculousness of the world outside.

This morning I overheard a colleague in the newsroom saying to the guy next to him: "Of course, you know you can unlike a like." Even a year ago I would have stopped dead in my tracks wondering what he was on about, shaking my head in disbelief at this ridiculous use of language. But not now. I am ashamed to say I knew exactly what he was referring to, and it's as much a scourge as it is a blessing in my tiny world: Facebook.

I'll admit I'm a user of this particular social networking website. I don't tweet, I occasionally use LinkedIn, but Facebook allows me to be a bit nosy when it comes to the lives, opinions and activities of people I know and love. It allows me to see hundreds of photographs of my teenage son, who is in the UK and seems to live out his life on its pages. It makes me smile.

It also makes me incredibly cross at times, for the site's creators, it seems, are constantly trying to invade every aspect of our lives, exploiting any possible revenue stream for advertising. And still I can't bring myself to permanently unplug. Two years ago I did disable my account but managed to last only six months before being sucked in again. I'd like to think I'm now more careful when it comes to what I'm prepared to share with my 166 "friends" but there's still enormous potential for trouble by saying the wrong thing or posting the wrong photograph. "Approach with caution" just about sums it up for me.

For all the benefits and drawbacks of social networking - and there are plenty of both - I've never been on a flight or in a car and wished I was able to get online so I could see what my contacts were up to. I still have the ability to switch off from the virtual world and enjoy a few blissful minutes or hours when I'm uncontactable. Do 166 people really need to know what my airline meal consists of, or about the traffic jam on the way home? No.

The car, for me at least, has always been a four-wheeled bubble that allows some peace and quiet, away from the ridiculousness of the world outside. Yet this solitude is increasingly under threat from the car manufacturers themselves and it's just cause for concern, especially for a dinosaur like me. Because nowadays mainstream car companies are less keen to talk about how their new models handle on the road than they are about how you can use them to update your social networking accounts.

Editor Neil Vorano, in his Detroit motor show report and on the road test of the new Mini Coupé on page 3 this week, talks about how car makers are creating infotainment systems that enable access to Twitter and Facebook, and unfortunately this is just the thin end of the wedge. I understand the benefits of being able to access Google Maps information or finding the nearest fuel station or hotel using internet connectivity, really I do. But surely we should all have the ability to sit inside a car or plane without telling the world what we're up to?

Concept cars are being unveiled these days that are not much more than iPads on wheels and, for a fan of driving, this is depressing stuff. Most of us have mobile phones that, should we be desperate enough, will allow us to get online. We don't need cars to do it for us. The car is a machine for transportation, not communication, but it's only a matter of time before we're all sucked in, powerless against Zuckerberg and his henchmen. Even George Orwell couldn't have seen that one coming. Unlike.