GPS dupes directionally-challenged woman

Know what’s wrong with MapQuest, GPS and the other directional systems that followed and we’re now following? They have collectively dumbed us down to the point we can no longer think for ourselves and/or find our way out of a wet paper bag (if there were still paper bags).

While improving our lives, navigational improvements have done to our sense of direction what calculators have our mental calculators: made them seem hopelessly slow and obsolete to the point we abandon them as pointless.

Last year, I traveled several hours away to a conference in another part of the state. A colleague rode along with me. We arrived the night before the event and stayed over at a hotel. Bored, I ventured out after dinner following the conference organizers’ directions for the route to the conference center so I would be familiar with it. Pretty basic Lewis and Clark stuff.

After breakfast on conference day, my colleague and I got into my car and she plunked her portable navigational system box on my dashboard. I didn’t say anything because she apparently had ceased to be able to function without its oddly sexy digital voice commands directing her every move.

“Turn left onto Blah Blah Street 500 feet ahead,” it purred. Only the turn should have been right. I knew it from my drive the night before. The box was wrong. So I turned to the right. My passenger came totally unglued. “What are you doing?” she demanded. “The box said to turn left.”

“I am thinking outside of the box,” I said, secretly enjoying my play on words. However, she was too dismayed at my blatant display of satellite technology disobedience to appreciate the humor. “You’ve got to turn around,” she insisted. “The box said to turn left.”

Instead, I continued to follow the right turn I had made. I informed I had actually driven the route the night before, sarcastically adding, “following good, old-fashioned directions written on a stone tablet,” and had found the conference venue, which most assuredly was to the right.

“No, no, no!” she all but shouted. “You must be mistaken. The box can’t be wrong. It never is. It knows everything.” On the heels of that ridiculous, absolute proclamation, I swung into the driveway of the next business along the correct conference route and drove back to the hotel for a clean, box-misdirected re-boot to our travel to the conference center. I’ve learned over the years that in cases of extreme cluelessness, showing can be more effective than telling. Plus, we had extra time and she was paying for the gas. Or rather, her employer was.

I kept my mouth shut and my eyes wide-open. When we got to the point of the controversial left turn, I allowed myself to be seduced by the robotic voice of the box and turned left. I followed the rest of the directions, too. They took us to what looked to be a boarded up former oil change establishment opposite a vacant lot. Such was my lot in life that day, courtesy of the voice in the box that is NEVER wrong and knows EVERYTHING.

“How about you get us registered while I go and park the car,” I couldn’t resist saying. But she missed the sarcasm entirely. “This cannot be,” she kept stammering, shaking her former lighter plug-in friend. “The box knows better. It wouldn’t let us down.” With her in a technology-betrayed stupor beside me, I drove us to the conference location using reliable bricks and mortar visual landmarks, such as corner bars. I felt as if I’d just told her the truth about Santa Claus. It gave me cause to pause.

Technology is a good thing. Except when it isn’t. It often wrongly encourages forgetting or entirely abandoning the skill set it replaced. We also forget it is only as effective and accurate as the information fed into it. I’m glad I haven’t fed entirely into its lure and come to believe, for instance, the efficiency of today’s word processing systems can replace the quality of the thoughts they capture. Hopefully these recognitions are proof I remain able to think outside of the box. GPS or otherwise.

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