It’s easy to mock the tiny GPS unit. There it sits, mounted on your dashboard, waiting patiently to tell you to turn left in one-tenth of a mile. Oblivious to your snappy retorts and obscene innuendoes; like a humorless Dudley-Do Right, it is the ultimate straight man in your traveling comedy team.
Despite their usefulness, it has been argued that GPS units represent a scary step in the direction of computers becoming increasingly bossy and commanding. I can understand this concern, although I fail to see the downside of any technology that brings our society closer to the utopian vision shown in the world of Knight Rider. Perhaps if GPS units were a little hipper, a little sassier—a little more like sidekicks and less like schoolmarms, they would find greater acceptance in mainstream commuting society.
I will grant that the voice technology for these devices might benefit from some streamlining. While fancier models give you several options, even those merely allow you to choose whether you prefer a dry, mechanical male or a prissy, annoyed female voice to tell you that you’ve missed your exit. (Sometimes, for kicks, when I am only a block or so away from my house and don’t really need directions, I will switch GPS to the Spanish Language version and listen to it tell me sharply to “hacer un U-Turn”.) As it is, what these gadgets lack in personality, they make up for in Global Positioning.
I would also like to point out that if you decide not to listen to your GPS unit, it isn’t as though it forces you into an electronic game grid where you must play gladiator-style Jai-Alai to the death with Jeff Bridges. (That model isn’t set to enter stores until spring of 2009.) In fact, its inexhaustible, judgment-free robot patience is a big part of what makes my GPS so helpful to me. I appreciate its tireless efforts to recalculate my route when I am driving erratically in circles because I can’t figure out what it’s telling me to do. A human companion would have thrown his hands up long ago and stuffed me in the trunk, but GPS will never do that. Its only concern is getting me where I want to go, and it also doesn’t have hands. I am additionally grateful that my many driving mistakes and misadventures remain our little secret. It is one thing to get hopelessly lost with an out-of-town guest; you can’t turn those off and leave them in the car at the end of the trip. I highly doubt that my GPS complains about me to anyone else who drives my car. I would feel betrayed to learn that it was telling others, “Prepare to turn left in two miles. Molly ALWAYS manages to miss this one. Honestly, can she even dress herself?”
My dear GPS, I will follow you to the ends of the earth, as long as you can estimate how many minutes it will take me to get there. Your knowledge of local roads and awareness of where I am at all times thrills me to my befuddled core. You are the sunshine of my commute, the apple of my dashboard.
Perhaps I should provide a little more background to explain why I am singing the praises of this device. I am not technically disabled…except perhaps in the literal sense of the word. I have the navigational ability (and self-preservation instincts) of a drunk wind-up toy. You know those people who have a lousy sense of direction and get lost all the time? If you took all of those people, and combined them into one completely incompetent, perpetually lost person, and then put a bag over that person’s head, spun them around three times, screamed in their ear with a megaphone and then dropped them off in the middle of the desert—that would approximate my condition every time I open my front door. My sense of direction often seems more like a badly disguised death wish.
Upon learning that I was moving to a new state where driving was the only way to really get anywhere in less than two days, my friends and family were concerned. My lifespan in North Carolina, if left to my own devices to find my way around, was estimated at two weeks. Fortunately, my parents’ parting gift to me was a small, unassuming GPS unit. It was a wonderful gift. Thanks to GPS, I am drunk with navigational power, and high on estimated arrival times. It is the only reason I am here today, writing this piece. (That, and because it threatened to run over my dog in three-tenths of a mile if I didn’t; but I digress). I only wish the good people at GPS could make a model that told you which way was front. I would buy two.