By Gerard ít Hooft

Once upon a time ...

there was a civilization, not unlike ours today, that had enjoyed tremendous recent advances in technology. One of their remarkable achievements was the invention of a new device. It was called the automobile.

 The first automobiles had engines that worked on steam and coal. It took about three minutes to start the engine, and the automobile did not yet move very fast, having a maximum speed of 30 km per hour. Still, this was faster than people could walk, and so it was considered a real improvement. People, on average, now took only some 30 minutes to travel from their homes to work, and everyone was happy with this great new enrichment of their lives.

 Then further technological advances came. The new automobiles had a roof, and were equipped with windows; they now had lights, claxons and light signals. The fuel for the engines was replaced by gasoline, and the maximum speed greatly improved, to 60 km/hour. The engines would start much quicker. However, the machines had also become more complex, and, for safety reasons, it was decided that before you start riding this vehicle, the proper working of the lights, the claxon, the light signals, the steering wheel, the breaks and the transparency of the windows had to be checked. All this checking would take about four minutes. Adding one minute to start the engine, this meant that after you'd step inside your automobile, you would not start moving before another five minutes went by. The breaks would be tested regularly also during the ride, and so the average time to get to your work had actually increased to 40 minutes.

 Then many more mighty improvements came. The maximum speed was increased to 200 km/hour. The engine could start up instantly. The automobile manufacturers made use of all these marvelous advances to build in many more interesting features. Your automobile would now have electrically adjustable windows, rear view mirrors, spare wheels, powered brakes, automatic gear shift, safety belts, door locks, radio and TV, a telephone set, an alarm clock and other gadgets, such as many automatic checking devices to ensure the proper working of the engines. Before starting the car however, all these devices had to be configured and tested. A standard feature was that the automobile would also check whether everybody was wearing safety belts, and whether there were elderly people or babies in the automobile. In case there were such passengers, they would receive special instructions. In case there were no elderly or babies in the car, this phase of checking took even more time: the automobile had to make sure that there were no elderly people or babies in the car. And if not, the babies could now be crossing the road in front of the automobile and all detectors had to be properly adjusted. All these procedures took time, and so after you would press the start button, another ten minutes would go by before you could actually drive your car. Very often, something went wrong. Then you had to stop the car and begin the starting procedure all over again.

 When you stepped out of your car, you also had to wait for a few minutes. This was because all devices that you were using during the ride, had to be switched off one-by-one, and the way you had adjusted their functioning had to be registered.  Because of traffic lights, police control and other limiting factors, driving to your work would now take an average of 50 minutes.

 But that was not all. When you bought a new automobile, all its devices were not yet properly installed.  When, in your new automobile, you would try to open your window for the first time, a sign appeared, saying that you first had to go to the garage to have your window-opening device properly registered. You'd better not leave the garage before you also checked and registered the powered brakes, the steering wheel, the signal lights, the windshield wipers, the claxon, the safety belts, the baby detectors, and so on. Otherwise you would not be able to ride for more than a few inches. When you turned on the radio or TV for the first time, they both said that you first had to go to the electricity shop to obtain a registration number and a password for those. If you opened the hood to put luggage inside, you discovered that the hood also had to be registered first. The hood's lock had a password that you might have forgotten. You had to re-register the hood every six months.

 And then, you had the problem of gasoline poison. Some malafide gas stations purposefully put poison in the gasoline that you purchased, which would ruin your engine. This problem had to be addressed by buying antidotes for this poison at other, bonafide, gasoline stations. Since new brands of poison were being invented every month, automobile owners were forced to purchase new antidotes at gasoline stations routinely every month or so. All in all, it often took more than a week before the owner of a new automobile could drive his vehicle more or less comfortably. But, because of the frequent engine failures and broken cars on the highway, his journey from home to work would often last much longer than an hour.

Only few people complained about this situation. After all, automobiles are complicated machines.

 By the way, the people in this civilization also had invented computers. When you bought one and switched it on, it would work instantly. And they became better every year.