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MOMents - Listening to the GPS

Watch out for that ocean on your right

Before I write another word, let me go on record saying that navigation is one of the best inventions ever. It is so much safer to listen to a robotic voice telling you where and when to turn than to try and read a map or directions while driving in an unfamiliar place.

In fact, it seems so popular that people use it even when they know the way and the listen to it even when it makes no sense. It is this hypnotic feature that I wish was portable to other things that need doing such as waking up in the morning and getting ready for school.

Imagine the Brave New World-ish disembodied voice saying, “Get out of bed and walk 20 feet north to the shower. Turn on water for five minutes. Now dry off and put on clothes,” and so forth.

No one ever gives this little device back talk or even questions it -- even when it makes no sense.

If the GPS tells a driver, who completely knows his way around the North Shore, to take Route 128 to Danvers when the destination is Salem, the experienced driver thinks, “Hmmm. Maybe this device knows something I don’t. I should just listen to it.”

Then, when it is clearly wrong, no one wants to admit they were dumb enough to trust a little box over their own instincts so we don’t talk about that either.

It seems such a far cry from the days when, as a reporter for the Boston Globe covering the entire North Shore, I and my colleagues used giant spiral-bound map books. Does anyone remember those?

We all had them in our cars and we had them in the office too. Before leaving, even for breaking news like fires and mayhem, we studied them to find the fastest route. In doing so, we learned the basics –- the highways and byways of the area.

I’m not longing for those days. I often think of how much easier it is to just program the GPS to do this work for you, but I think the general knowledge of the area, its main roads and boundaries is still important, especially for new drivers.

If you have basic knowledge and you are trying to get from the Lynnway to Swampscott, when the GPS tells you to turn right near Walmart and you have just crossed a bridge so you know that an ocean lies to the right, you might not actually listen.  

Recently, some kids told me it took so long to get home from a football game in Somerville because of traffic on the Tobin Bridge. Huh?

The GPS took them that way. The driver did not question its wisdom or have a giant book of spiral-bound maps to consult.

Perhaps old habits die hard, but I often print out a map before I leave and everyone else in my house laughs and reminds me that I have navigation.  I know I do, but I get nervous for those moments when the monotone voice calmly tells me, “You have lost navigation in this area,” or, when it clearly points me straight into the Atlantic Ocean.

Nancy Diaz September 30, 2012 at 01:01 PM
Great Article! I am one who can't find her way out of a paper bag! The GPS has given me the freedom and confidence to get in the car and go anywhere. I cannot express how this little device has changed my life. (I can't place myself on a map either.) I do, like you, do mapquest, just in case. . .
Mark Chulsky October 01, 2012 at 01:21 PM
Thanks for the great article! I too tried a GPS, but after it told me to make a U-turn on Masspike, I'm back to the maps and atlases :-)
David E. Peterson, Esq. October 01, 2012 at 01:45 PM
Great article. I think GPS serves a purpose, but people rely on it way too much. I find that GPS is heavily biased towards interstates and highways, when surface roads are often better.

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