On the Road

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That's a stick shift pictured left, a piece of car tech with an emotional history more intricate than the gears, clutch, and stick that constitute its physical assemblage. Transformed long ago from necessity to style, it has been living a life of road romanticism. Stick shifts have been an example of how the relationship with a "useless" object can become an important part of an owner's self-image, in this case wrapping identity in speed, control, "feel of the road," and implied auto expertise. It melded man (mostly) and car into a type unknown prior to this century.

But all that is apparently coming to an end. The Wall Street Journal reports that the number of cars featuring stick shifts is declining steeply. The paper cites a number of factors, but the most interesting one is also identified as "the last nail in the stick shift's coffin": the cell phone.

Drivers can't easily shift and use the phone simultaneously, pitting the identity values of the two technologies against each other. That the status (and practicality) of mobile communication is now overwhelming the romance of gear shifting is only a small death for "style," which after all thrives on such little deaths. But it certainly changes the idea of being on the road.

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