Perhaps its a side effect of getting old or perhaps its a consequence of the amount of strange alcohol i have been drinking lately, but I have been paying more and more attention to a cultural shift in American culture. When I grew up and for generations before, the last major right of passage for any American teenager was passing the driving test and getting your license. Sure there may be some others, like graduating high school, or your inevitable 21st birthday inebriation but lets face it, most teenagers have been drinking long before their 21st arrives so adding legitimacy to it is hardly the event it once was, and graduating high school is less of a right of passage anymore given the fact that most public high schools are little more than holding cells that serve to destroy any semblance of self esteem a youth might have then at the end give you a degree that can later be exchanged for 1 job flipping burgers. There is no real difficulty in attaining a degree (though i guess the same could not be said for surviving the North American high school experience intact, but that is a different topic all-together), and in fact it is virtually mandatory.

Attaining a drivers license, however, is not compulsory, nor is overcoming the hurdles of acquiring and maintaining a car. For me and generations upon generations of youths this ordeal was the last barrier to real adulthood which spurs the search for a first job and teaches the foundations for managing life’s first real bills. All of this is done in the name of freedom. Your first real taste of freedom from the control of your parents. The ability to go anywhere, anytime, visit with friends and go exploring at all hours and have a place of your own to lose your virginity in. To a teenager your first car is your hotel room, closet, dinner cafe, ashtray and confessional.

This is where things have seemed to get weird and the teenage experience seems to have entered bizarro land. The internet has stepped in and offered an easy button for most of these things and kids are no fools, they are quite keen on any way they can do less. Want to discuss deep and philosophical things with that girl you like, get on the face-space or text or IM her and chat all night without ever getting her yelled at for curfew. Want to get out and go exploring? Go socialize with your friends? get together for a game night with your pals? The internet brings all of this right to your room. The internet is easier and cheaper than a car, and the youths of America have noticed.

More and more of these articles pop up each year, and my own experiences with younger people in day to day life back this up, but what does it all mean? What significance is there in skipping this step and going right to “adulthood”? If you could live a comfortable and social life right out of your room in your parents house, there isn’t any real urgent need for a job yet is there? I mean surely some other life event will come along and make me want to get out and get a job and start paying my own bills because it sounds awesome right? Tons more fun than 16 hours of warcraft….

Every time we short-cut or eliminate one of these rites of passage in American life, we encourage another group of 20-something children to continue on into the world choosing easy degrees in basket weaving over their early childhood dreams of being a scientist or doctor because it was easy, and pushing them forward unprepared for the rigours of carving out a meaningful existence contributing to our economy and pushing the human race into its next century of development. To paraphrase Thomas Friedman, we inch closer to becoming a nation that just sells cheeseburgers to one another.

So now that we have looked at the societal impacts lets quickly discuss what this all means to the automotive enthusiast….this means that as these 20-something children eventually discover the need to drive and go out and get a real job, they will do so without the same lust for it that our forefathers did, without the 4+ years of practice that early drivers used to receive, and most importantly with no actual enthusiasm for the task. Driving is a chore to most, and when you don’t like doing something, you don’t generally put effort into doing it well. I attribute this to the same theory I have for why Arco stations cause more traffic:

  • People that like doing something will try to do it well, and conversely if you dont like doing something you wont care to do it well
  • If you don’t enjoy driving you will care less for your car and instead see it as a necessary burden
  • Arco is typically the cheapest gas station, but the gas is generally lower or less consistent quality (91 from Arco usually pings in my tuned boosted cars whereas Chevron, Mobil and 76 don’t)
  • Worse drivers will gravitate toward the cheaper but worse gas, and will do so, in a less deft fashion (i.e. blocking the right lane when turning slowly into the station or not fully getting into the turn-lane forcing through-traffic to stop or avoid)

This means that each year that more of these reluctant drivers get out on the roads the ratio of safe and skilled to reluctant drivers swings farther and farther towards the texting masses. This means more chances of one of them side-swiping your parked car or dinging you in a parking lot. This also means a virtually non-existent chance of them buying a manual transmission car communicating to the manufacturers that they arent in demand.

Save the manuals, save the enthusiast cars, and promote good driving. Lets keep the teenage rite of passage alive. Share your comments below. let us know what you think.