Sunday, February 14, 2010

Some technology I can live without

Late last year I came across a website that noted 21 things that had become obsolete during the past decade. A bit of a misnomer, because most of things profiled aren’t obsolete. Anyway, because of the proliferation of GPS units in automobiles, maps, according to this website, are apparently obsolete. A shame really because I really like maps, and considering the number of times my five year old son has looked at his dog-eared and crumpled Disneyland map, he likes them too.

I’ll admit to being a reluctant user of new technologies. I was the last person to get an ATM card, the second last person to get a DVD player (my parents were the last), and I’m able to resist the urge to buy the latest electronic gadgets.

Last week when renting a car in Los Angeles, I asked the guy for a map. “Oh, I forgot to ask if you wanted a GPS.” No, just a map, I replied. It’s all I would need.

With words like, “Oh, you HAVE to get one of those" -- others have extolled the virtues of these little devices, but I’m not sold. They seem more of a novelty to me. Plan your route in advance, know how to read a map, and follow the signs. And if you do get lost, delight in the detour.

I’m not sure if it’s just my family, but has anyone else ever gotten lost when using a GPS? Last year while in San Diego, I told my sister (whose car was equipped with a GPS) to take a particular road along the beach for a nice drive. She was following me for a while, and then turned off. When I asked why she turned off, she said the GPS told her she was seven miles from Mexico, and she thought she was lost. How ironic the person with the GPS thought she was lost. Indeed my sister probably was seven miles from the Mexican border. While my sister was afraid of Mexican banditos or something else, my wife and I enjoyed a pleasant seaside drive.

The other day I was driving with my parents, again in San Diego, and they had programmed the GPS to take my son and me to Sea World. It’s an easy 4km from where we were staying. From the front of the vehicle all I heard was an annoying woman’s voice (no, not my mother’s) coming from the computerized unit sitting on the dash.

"Turn right 250 metres, bear left 200 metres, turn right, turn right, turn left, go straight, recalculating, recalculating."

Instead of just following the well-marked signs to Sea World, my parents were so focused on the GPS unit. In fact, when we left we actually missed a turnoff, because they were listening to the directions. I asked my mother if she could turn the annoying voice off. I have no idea how anyone could concentrate on driving when this nagging voice is telling you where to go. It’s worse than the worst backseat driver. I would have thrown the device out the window before getting past the first block.

Where’s the joy in not always taking the most direct route? Or the unexpected pleasures that invariably come with getting lost? Technology has indeed made our lives better, but there are some things that I can do without. Does anyone have a map?