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500 Miles to Ironforge

On one hand, it’s the best idea in human history: Dad drives the minivan, and while little Pashley is engrossed in her Dora DVDs, mom can e-mail her sister about how ill-advised this trip is, Junior can watch a panda get hit in the junk on YouTube, and Sister can do whatever it is those damn kids do in their Facespaces or Mybooks or what have you.
On the other hand, it’s the Internet in the car. Well, there’s a brilliant plan with absolutely no flaws, don’t you think?

”DSL? Where we’re going, we don’t need DSL.”

Now, there are lots of places where you could be reading VehicleVoice: in the office, at Starbucks, on your couch, at another Starbucks…the possibilities are endless. But you probably don’t read it in the car during the trips between Starbuckses. (Man, that looks weird when it’s written out.)
In general, that’s probably a good thing. Just holding a cell phone to your ear is a shootin’ offence in several states, including California, home of the VehicleVoice Benevolent Corporate Overlords. But no one thought to ban web surfing while driving.
Well, that was a mistake, because starting this August, Chrysler‘s Mopar aftermarket supplier will start providing the router and Autonet Mobile the connection to turn cars into WiFi hotspots. The system is called uconnect web, and sets you back only about $500, including installation.

Seriously, stop doing this. Were you dropped as a child or something?

A WiFi hotspot is a place where people with laptops and game systems and PDAs and everything else (I think I have WiFi-enabled gum in my purse.) pluck the Internet out of the very aether and run around wireless criticizing other people’s creative endeavors. Public libraries, coffee shops, waiting rooms and the bar down the street from my office all are popular hotspots.
Like I said earlier, turning the car into a traveling hotspot – one that broadcasts a wireless signal up to 100 feet from the car, no less – is a pretty good idea on the surface. As the survivor of countless family car trips, I can definitively say I would have whined a lot less if I could have passed the time leveling up a World of Warcraft character or something. (For the purposes of this exercise, assume the world had wireless web access and World of Warcraft in the early ‘90s.)
Once you start to think about it, though, the idea kind of falls apart. Most people’s in-the-car web needs involve relatively simple stuff – where’s the restaurant, what was the phone number, who was the narrator in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The people Chrysler is hoping to reel in with uconnect web – twentysomethings and other tech-addicted shoppers – already have GPS systems for simple queries and smart phones for mild-to-moderate web browsing. (The IMDB doesn’t translate well to a teeny screen, so it took us a few minutes to find out that it’s John Laroquette’s voice on TxCM.) Young people and tech addicts don’t need UConnect, because they’ve already got web-on-the-go covered.
It’s ugly, too. Looks a lot like this, except strapped to the wall of your car.

In the press release announcing uconnect web, Chrysler tips its hand by offering the examples of web use during a family picnic or at the soccer field: this is a product for families, and it’s going to be great for when the little ones’ attention spans get shorter as they grow taller. Who needs a book of DVDs and a coloring book when they’ve got the whole Internet?
Eh, maybe I’m wrong. I thought backseat entertainment systems were a blight on the landscape and the populace would rise up and reject them, and where did that get me? Almost in a wreck from trying to figure out which episode of The Muppet Show was playing in the back of that Town & Country, that’s where. Maybe in five years, I’ll be posting these entries by leaching WiFi off the car in the next lane.

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