Friday, March 23, 2007

Imagine if Columbus had GPS…

I’m not a Luddite or Amish. However, I still need to figure out how GPS (Global Positioning System) fits into my world. Maybe because I work with technology, I’m hesitant to let it control my car? I don’t know.

Map it! Map it real good!
I can tolerate online mapping tools like MapQuest and Google Maps. However, the directions may not always be accurate or the best route. I think there are many more advancements in the searching capabilities in the past few years (i.e., choose main roads vs local roads). I’ll search for the location and just use the map to plot out my own route. I can’t follow it word for word.

For all that is said about women and directions, I think if they have accurate information, they are all set. I’m excellent with landmarks and always provide them and ask for them. Maybe it’s my navigational insecurity, which makes me weary of technology. My father and husband need to drive somewhere once and remember it.

I wish I could do a psychology test based on how people handle directions to my house. My house is off the main road without a visible marker in one direction. Therefore, we provide specific directions: “At the 25 mph sign, put on right blinker. Start looking for a mailbox.” Even with directions, people have missed it or ended up in the wrong driveway. So, when people just Google for directions, they can’t find the house. Another friend mistyped the house number and ended up on the opposite end of the road. Only common thread I can say is that these drivers have been men.

GPS –Get People Somewhere
The next stage of navigational technology is GPS. One friend said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, it’s great. If you do know the route, it’s not going to work for you.” We used it in a friend’s car when we went to Boston to visit other friends. Using the GPS, we were stuck at a railroad crossing for 20 minutes as a freight train passed. When we told our local friend, he was so surprised we went that route. “But GPS told us to do that!”

In the interest of balanced presentation, on the same trip, the GPS came through for us when we were searching for restaurants and gas stations in the area. However, if one has a Blackberry or other device that can access the internet, it would be just as efficient.

As a non-GPS user, I find it interesting how dependent the driver suddenly becomes on the tool. A friend who has lived and worked in the area for years declared the tool will navigate her home from the city. Drivers turn off their own steering sense and just listen to where they need to go.

The GPS will say “next exit on the left”, but did the driver pay attention to whether it is northbound or southbound exit?

“Well, it doesn’t really matter, since it’ll recalculate for you.” Ok, so a complicated u-turn is acceptable now?

A former colleague once told me about a Japanese artist, I believe. He said that people lose some skills with advancements. People used to tell stories, and kept their memories sharp by retaining oral histories. When books were being printed, they lost that skill. Now, we can see with computers that the skill of writing by hand is being replaced by typing. (I admit that writing by hand more than 10 lines is taxing!)

Personally, I believe if you’re losing one skill, your brain would be making other complex connections. While you’ve been lax on your spelling, your brain is sharper in knowing where to find a correction tool and dig through the multiple icon/menu bars.

However, does reliance on GPS free your brain to do other things while driving?

The Anthropomorphization

When the directional voice is turned on the GPS, it’s an even more fascinating phenomenon. The tiny computer with screen becomes a person. “She said to turn left.” “Did he say this right?” The system has earned a pronoun and becomes another entity in the car – one whose opinion is valuable to the passengers.

A colleague mentioned how she loves her ‘GPS lady’ because she is so non-judgmental. If you miss a turn, she doesn’t berate you or make you feel bad. She remains polite no matter how many mistakes you make and adjusts her plan.

Maybe this is important as to how the driver forms the ‘relationship’ of trust to their system. And, since I don’t have a GPS, I have to be skeptical of the blind trust.

By the way, we do know people who can’t find themselves out of a paper bag without directions. They call us and ask for directions consistently, as if their memory retention for direction is stored on an Etch-A-Sketch. For them, we insist they get a GPS unit!

I’m still old-school and want my directions written out for me.

To prove I’m not a Luddite, here’s a tech tip: When I get directions to a friend’s house, I paste them into the friend’s record in my Outlook Address Book. Then download it to my Palm, so I can quickly access directions and information.


Anonymous said...

Its fun reading. Well written( ofcourse feminine angle there but we men understood it so well! a pet for self :) )


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Pujan.

I don't usually get into the men vs women thing here, but I do believe that men and women process information differently. I think women are more visual and/or open to personal interaction and visual(asking for directions, using landmarks), while men are fine with using maps and tools.

BTW, if Columbus had GPS, I think he would've ended up in India, but probably taken the scenic route through Greenland.