Sunday, July 26, 2015

Why I don’t quite trust my GPS

I have a difficult relationship with my GPS. She’s like my mother; I only listen to her sometimes. She thinks she knows best, but only I know what’s right for me (referring to my mother) and which roads I like to travel (referring to my GPS).

Yesterday, my GPS once again proved the difficulty in total reliance on her voice for direction. It was a classic example: two cars leave from the same starting point and plan to meet at a nearby destination. The other car knows the way and makes a stop first. My car uses GPS and goes straight to the destination, arriving last after traveling the scenic way.

My experience with GPS  proves it's best used when you already know where you’re going. When I’m in familiar territory, I can flag when GPS is taking me the long way, or through traffic-prone areas, or through industrial areas. That’s when my own autopilot takes over, driving favorite routes with the GPS voice prompts turned way down. Somehow it's impossible to turn her voice completely off, and I can still hear her whispering, pleading for me to turn RIGHT NOW.

I typically turn GPS on, even when driving locally, because road closures and construction are the order of the day. If forced to take less-known roads, I can quickly get back on track. It’s when I don’t know where I’m going, and rely solely on GPS, that I know I’m going miles out of my way. Some websites even warn not to follow GPS, and offer their own directions instead. Most times, I’ll pre-map unfamiliar routes online, print out the directions, and also take a roadmap.

Roadmaps are useful because they provide a bigger picture of the journey than the small GPS screen with a you-are-here view. Although with maps it's best to have a navigator beside you, as they're hard to read safely while driving. With GPS and maps in hand, I have Plan A and Plan B, because you never know what you’ll run into on the road.

My favorite GPS story comes from “The Office,” when Steve Carrell as Michael Scott follows his rental car’s GPS directions precisely – and drives right into a lake. My own GPS makes me laugh when she says, “Danger! Water!”, when approaching a bridge, or “Warning! Tollbooth!”, which sounds more like Toe-booth.

One reason I bought a new car was for its navigational system, but I still keep my glovebox stuffed with maps, just in case. As the saying goes, if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there. But I’d rather get there sooner than later.

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