It’s an Appliance

It’s an appliance, you know, like a fridge…

I’m back at school this week and getting to know my new students.  In our grade nine introduction to computers class they’re putting together tech-resumes so I can see what their background in tech is.  One of the nines has a prezi covered in pictures of Ferraris.  I asked him what that was all about and he said, “I love cars!”

I was surprised by my response, “they’re appliances dude!”

Some of them even look like fridges!  Guess what the most
popular car colours are… just like appliances!

I’ve been a car-guy for a long time (since I got one when I was seventeen because my parents ponied up the difference between a car and the motorcycle I was going to get).  On the list of things I thought I’d never say, calling cars appliances is near the top, yet out it came.

Appliances are used to make domestic chores easier, things like commuting, or going shopping.  They keep you dry when it’s wet, keep you cool when it’s hot, and warm when it’s cold, and they get you where you need to go.  They’re so easy to operate that most people who use them have no idea how they work and don’t care.  The vast majority of people on the road last focused on how to drive when they were getting their license, once they have it they simply operate their vehicles on habit for decades.  Cars are a necessary appliance for modern life, and that’s how people use them.

Fetishizing cars is where I found an odd resonance.  As engineering and design efforts, I can still appreciate the mechanical and design elements some cars display (one of the reasons I still look forward to watching Top Gear who focus on those things), but when I see someone driving down the street in a pimped out Pontiac Sunfire I have to wonder what is wrong with them.  It’s like putting a wing on an oven.

What kind of license do you need to drive a car?  In Ontario it’s a G-general license, good for cars and light trucks.  Two-thirds of Canadians have a driver’s license.  Older drivers who probably shouldn’t be on the road keep general licenses active, we hand out automotive licenses to children before we allow them to vote.  Driving a car offers access to an appliance that the majority of people feel they need.

When I have to take a car to work it’s for appliance like reasons (I need to pick up equipment or move stuff around), it’s never an enjoyable experience in and of itself.  I want the car to work, to be efficient, and to last a long time… like any other appliance. 

I drive very well.  I’ve spent time and money improving my ability to handle a four wheeled vehicle in advanced driving schools and on the track and I’ve driven on both sides of the road on opposite sides of the world, but the thought of hauling tons of seats and dashboard around a track seems absurd to me now.  I’ll make an exception for racing vehicles stripped to the essentials, but my interest there is mainly in the engineering rather than the driving.  The complex, raw interaction between rider and machine on two wheels is much more interesting to me now.

I have been drifting away from driving as a ecologically irresponsible means of recreation for a while, though the years I’ve spent getting familiar with internal combustion engines has made me a fan of their engineering.  The brutal minimalism and efficiency of a motorcycle allows me to keep that connection alive knowing that I’m burning as little gas as possible to carry the least amount of weight in the most entertaining fashion.

I’ll leave the appliances to the masses.  They can get into their refrigerator white or silver vehicles and putter about in a distracted, isolated way, using way more of a diminishing natural resource and producing more waste to support a wasteful, simplistic, accessible means of transport that the majority of people can manage (poorly).  I think I’m at peace with what came out of my mouth in class, though it surprised me at the time.


[uh-plahy-uh ns]

1. an instrument, apparatus, or device for a particular purpose or use.

2. a piece of equipment, usually operated electrically, especially for use in the home or for performance of domestic chores, as a refrigerator, washing machine, or toaster.