The Lost Art of Changing Gears as Told Through the Fast and the Furious

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Even the most cherished skills for manipulating our machines eventually lose their utility.

At some point in the not-too-distant past, the key technological moment in a teenager's life might have been when she learned how to depress the clutch with her left foot, change her car's gear with her right hand, while giving the engine gas with her right foot. As the driver improved, the action became automatic and if you were a particular kind of dumb, rural teenager (like myself), you may have tried to see how fast you could get your car going in a given direction. The keys to this (I may have discovered) are when and how you shift the gears. I felt much mildly unsafe joy in getting from 0 to 60 as quickly as possible in my little Ford Escort.

Nowadays, though, more than 90 percent of American cars come with automatic transmissions. And the deskilling of teen drivers, I'm sure, has begun. One more skill, like efficient rotary phone dialing, will go missing and more more system will become a little easier to use and more opaque.

So it was with great nostalgia that I watched this incredible video of the hundreds of gear shifting clips from all five Fast and Furious movies. I've never actually seen these films and luckily, now that we have this YouTube video, I'll never have to. Imagine what this will look like to the kids of the future, almost all of whom will not know how to "drive stick."

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Technology Channel. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer calls Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science Web site in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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