The other night I was lounging on my sofa watching Two-Lane Blacktop, an existential road movie starring musicians James Taylor and Dennis Wilson. It’s kind of like Easy Rider, but with cars instead of bikes, and ending in a different kind of heartache. The internet calls it a time capsule, and for once it’s right.
For within its frames lies a beautiful ossification of automotive culture at its most golden: the high-water mark of mobile Americana, in which Detroit muscle cars and homegrown gassers romped down drag strips (or airport roads) for money or pink slips, sometimes both. The world and the machines depicted in Two-Lane Blacktop may be 41 years old, but they still hold massive appeal today. And I’ll bet you anything that, in another two decades, this movie will stir up even more yearning. Why? Because the future of the automobile is going to suck.
Cruise the internet, observe what’s happening at all those glitzy auto shows, and you’ll see that the world’s car manufacturers are all falling over themselves to develop electric cars that will, in the very near future, become the everyday transport staple. Now, I don’t mind electric cars. I think they’re pretty good at dispatching with daily drudgery. Beyond sitting in the drive-through queue and dithering in traffic jams, however, they’re pretty damn uninspiring: soundless entities with about as much character as the Dremel or Dustbuster charging on your kitchen counter. They break or get too old and you simply trade them in for a new model. There will be no legacy. No history. No soul. Making matters worse is that manufacturers are also looking at splicing autonomous driving technology into these amp-sucking appliances. So instead of actually piloting them, we can all just lurk on the back seat, hunched and drooling over our smartphones. In 2037, it’s not about either the destination or the journey, but the 10G data you can devour en route.