Yesterday there was an article, "Get Lost," in the NY Times. (NY Times Select membership required) It was written by Ted Conover. Mr. Conover in his own somewhat light hearted way seems to have a problem with GPS systems.
I am prepared to admit that I may also harbor a built-in bias against this particular gizmo. The problem, to me, is that navigation by G.P.S. changes the nature of car travel: it makes it seem all about numbers (distance to destination, time to destination) when I'm trying to preserve a sense that travel is also about something else.
It's an interesting opinion, but it could only come from someone who doesn't have to be anywhere new at any given time on a regular basis. Now I'm sure Mr. Conover's article was written in the spirit of looking upon yet another modern invention as causing us to loose something important such as "unmeasured moments of suspension between here and there." Yet to many of us who wander the wilds of corporate America find that what we lose with a GPS system is the big headache of trying to locate a place where we've never been before.
The road warriors of the the world actually have to visit certain people in specific places at agreed upon time. That being the case, we find GPS systems to be great inventions which with a modicum of intelligence can get you almost anywhere more safely than maps especially when you're traveling by yourself and don't have the luxury of a human co-pilot and navigator.
Granted GPS systems aren't perfect and perhaps they are of little use for those people to whom losing time doesn't matter, but I find them invaluable. Mr. Conover goes on to say the following.
Hertz calls its onboard G.P.S. system Hertz Neverlost. Often when we get lost we, horror of horrors, lose time....
But the G.P.S, which makes a driver focus on the when and how of arrival, strikes me as the electronic equivalent of the child in the back seat querulously asking, "Are we there yet?" The more you think about those miles, the slower they tick by. I want to muse upon things other than numbers when I drive, want to cultivate a subconscious sense of where I am and where I'm headed, want to enjoy unmeasured moments of suspension between here and there.
I guess Mr. Conover's work is so easily accomplished in the alloted time that saving some by not being lost isn't important.
Obviously Mr. Conover doesn't spend much time in real traffic or he might have a different focus. I try to stay away from my subconscious when I'm driving. Keeping away from the idiots on the loose behind the wheel in everything from Hummers to pocket rockets requires my full attention.
GPS systems are in general better than anything but detailed city maps. Wonder of wonders they actually have a switch and can be used only when needed. In fact the systems default to being off. Yes, if you miss a turn, they might tell you make the next possible U-turn. The assumption is that a human is at the wheel and has enough sense to not make a U-turn in the middle of any Interstate. Of course I have seen humans do that anyway, and I am willing to bet no GPS unit told them to do it.
I would love to not have to be in a specific place that I have never visited at a certain time, but the reality is that is part of my job and just as it is for many others out there.
We actually have GPS systems in two of our cars. The screen above on the left is from our Acura and the screen on the right is from our Toyota. While most are very good GPS systems, the Acura to my mind is a far more useful system for a couple of reasons. The first and most important is that when you are moving there is very little that you can do with the Toyota system. The Acura system is fully functional while moving. I hate to always be talking about user interfaces, but the one on the Acura is much better. Having to switch regions on the Toyota is very inconvenient on the Toyota. Without getting into too many details, the Acura interface is just more natural.
If you think that a GPS system takes all the fun out of wandering, you're sadly mistaken. The best part of a GPS system is that you can be driving down an Interstate and run into completely stopped traffic and just take an exit before you are caught, hit the detour button, and the system will figure out a sometimes marvelous back roads way to get you to your destination with only minimal delay.
On long trips we haven't figured out how to play one of our favorite GPS games with the Toyota, but with the Acura we never plan where we're going to stop for meals, we have the system present us with a moving list of potential eating spots. We've actually found a couple of very interesting restaurants with GPS restaurant roulette. If it is any consolation to Mr. Conover, the times given by GPS system are only estimates and generally vary significantly from the actual time it takes to reach a destination.