The Car Clock Curse

At some point in the ’60s or ’70s, the true pinnacle of car clock technology was reached. Vehicles had clocks on their dashboards that accurately told the time and–crucially–could be easily changed by the owner to account for a shift to Daylight Savings Time or a cross-country drive to a different time zone.

Typically, the cars of that era used one of two adjustment methods, both of which were intuitive and easy to use. Cars that had standard clocks had a small knob located next to the clock that could be turned to move the minute hand backwards or forwards to reflect time changes. Cars that had at-the-time futuristic digital clocks had small buttons next to the clock that allowed the digits to move up or down. In either case, changing the time in your car clock was simple and took no more than a few seconds.

Cars stayed at this pinnacle for several decades, because designers presumably were smart enough to leave well enough alone. But at some point, they couldn’t risk adding new bells and whistles, and clocks like the one shown above were inflicted on the car-buying public. That’s not an actual clock, regrettably, it’s a software depiction of one. To change the time, you need to dig out the inches-thick owner’s manual, find the instructions on how to change the time, and then follow a devilishly complicated series of steps that could only have been concocted by an anti-social software engineer. A time change that used to be a snap now takes about an hour and is the source of tremendous frustration.

The result is that this particular car clock has become functionally inoperative. Although the clock indicates it is 4:22, it is actually 9:51 in the real world. Currently, at least, the clock is precisely 6 hours and 31 minutes fast. I keep meaning to try to change it, but it’s one of those unwelcome tasks that keeps getting put off. So whenever we drive somewhere, I see the stupid clock and am painfully reminded of my technological ineptitude and have to do mental calculations to get to the correct time.

Fortunately, perhaps, most new cars come with a clock that is set by the GPS system, which changes time automatically–at least, so long as the GPS system is functioning. If the GPS is on the fritz, though, the car owner is out of luck and out of time.

Car clocks are a good example of how some purported advances in technology really aren’t advances at all.