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Alexa; should I call car ‘Betsy’ & can you recommend a class to learn car language?
Wyatt column
Remember the good old days when cars didn’t talk to you like my 2017 Ford Focus?

The 1924 Ford Model “T” has finally gotten revenge.

For those blessed not to have seen what TV Guide in 2002 called the second worst TV show of all time behind the Jerry Springer Show, a 1924 Model “T” was victimized as the primary vehicle that parts from other cars of that era were slapped on to create what was called a 1928 Porter on “My Mother the Car.”

If you are under 40, this is going to sound like something Russian trolls made up to destroy America’s sanity on social media.

The premise was Jerry Van Dyke — who was the star of the sitcom — bought a car that was essentially a reincarnation of his mom.

His mom talked to him through the car’s radio to give him advice in a bid to help him solve problems.

If it sounds an awful lot like the voice-activated SYNCH system on my Ford Focus, you’re not far off.

I can now add my car to the list of “people” who don’t understand me half the time.

Perhaps it's just me, but it seems Ford has channeled polite teenagers that listen to me half the time and can’t understand a word I'm saying the rest of the time.

I can say “Channel 70” the same way at the same volume level, and it will get the message sometimes while tuning me out the rest.

Worse yet, when it doesn't recognize what I’m saying, it’ll launch into a cheery yet monotonous explanation to tell me that it doesn’t understand what I said.

It then proceeds to lecture me about what I’m supposed to do — just like Ann Southern’s voice as Jerry Van Dyke’s mom on “My Mother the Car” except more soothing.

If I’m lucky, my car will understand me on the next try. If not, it prompts me again with the same instructions.

It’s not pleasant realizing you’re allowing inanimate objects to treat you like an idiot.

This comes from a “lady”— why are all the voices on such devices seemingly always female — that not only has a limited vocabulary, but can’t enunciate too well herself.

Rarely can “she” pronounce any of the names from my phone list correctly, even though they are spelled correctly.

If a 1956 model human can figure out the bizarre rules of how letters are pronounced differently under certain circumstances, certainly a 2017 Ford Focus can.

It’s frustrating enough when people can’t comprehend what you're saying, but it is worse when you're forking over good money only to be politely told repeatedly by the device you’re paying for that you can’t communicate well.

I’ll admit, I’m channeling years of frustration of dealing with automated phone systems trying to reach the elusive and endangered flesh-and-blood customer service representative who isn’t located in Outer Mongolia.

And I do get the voice recognition system is rather limited.

But if sitcom writers from 1965 got trashed for creating the one-season TV series disaster, you’d think engineers in the Age of Alexa could create a SYNCH system that listened as well as Jerry Van Dyk’s TV mom did.

For the record, I do slow down when I talk to my car.

When I’ve stopped the car and am frustrated trying to use the voice activation system, I even will lean forward and talk loudly and even slower in a bid not to be misunderstood which, by the way, is the name of a 1960s song sung by Eric Burden Sirius Channel 6 plays occasionally.

It’s time like these you wonder what your grandparents would be thinking.

Back in the day — for those born in the Internet Age, that’s when people gossiping actually did it face-to-face instead of typing exchanges — you’d count your lucky stars if you could afford a car radio with FM capabilities.

You hit the jackpot if you were able to locate a pay phone when you had a pressing need to reach out and touch someone and actually have enough loose change to make the call.

Your car didn’t nag you if you were getting low on fuel.

Distracted driving was nearly impossible to pull off unless you had power steering.

Of course, it was a time that people sometimes “talked” to their cars and gave them names as if they were human. (Why, by the way, is calling your car “Betsy” so popular?)

If you were seen talking to your car as you drive, most people would have thought you were certifiable and not as in used cars.

I admit, my view on the craziness of technology is an age thing. I’m not a Luddite but I do think technology has made life more awkward.

I was jogging down Woodward Avenue back in the Stone Age, circa 2003, when I saw a guy standing on the sidewalk ahead flailing his arms like a madman.

As I got closer, I heard him raising his voice and then start shouting.

I started making plans to take evasive action if went completely berserk.

Then, as I got closer, he turned suddenly sending his fairly long hair flying revealing an earpiece.

I was close enough that his words were clear.

The guy was having a fight with his girlfriend using his cell phone via a Bluetooth device in his ear.

Lucky for me, he wasn’t driving a car with voice recognition allowing him to verbally rumble with his girlfriend while being oblivious to everything around him.



This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at