Lost or NeverLost?

While on my business trip (and visiting The Forester) I was pleased to find that my rental car had a navigational system in it; although a long-time user of computer-generated driving directions from the web (and I’ve seen great improvement in the accuracy and usefulness of those systems), I’d been wanting to try one of the newfangled in-car dohickeys.

The system in question was a Magellan NeverLost (III perhaps), and I was quite pleased with how well it performed.  I didn’t read any instructions, and had no problem operating it (although I disliked the keyboard-less address-entry GUI — why don’t they install dasher instead?).  I never glanced at a single map that I had printed out in advance.  Indeed, after following the rental-car clerk’s directions to a grocery store (which put me off my printed routes), I punched in the address of my hotel, and the GPS took me right there.

Fortunately, even though I was probably more tempted than most to fidget with it while driving, I did not find it obtrusive at all. After entering the directions, there is no need to look at the screen at all, since it gives you 2mile, 1.1mile, and impending warnings for every turn.  The nice lady in the tiny box does not even attempt to pronounce actual street names (i.e. “Elm street”, or “I-95”), but gives all directions relationally (“You are approaching a freeway entrance on the left”, or “Right turn in 2 miles”, or my favorite, “You are approaching a slight right turn, followed by a slight right turn”, by which was meant a right turn that had a special little 50-foot-long curved roadlet so right-turners wouldn’t have to wait at the light or turn too sharply — if that’s as concise as I can describe it, I guess her words are pretty good!).  It wasn’t even for a couple of trips that I discovered where the next street names were printed on the little map screen.

So it was fun, easy, and dependable to use, but I miss the engagement with the local geography that you get from studying maps and routes.  At no time did I have any impression of which way I was driving, where my destination was in relation to the direction my wheels were currently pointed — in general, I never felt I knew where I was.

I guess this is just another particular version of the general complaint about the isolating effects of new technologies.  People are still lamenting about how email diminishes face-to-face interaction, but it is also helping to keep friends and families and businesses interconnected, even though they are spread around the globe.  People complain that an email just isn’t as much of a real personal connection as a phone call.  And that’s true, but I bet people said the same thing when the novelty of the telphone began to wear off, and people didn’t get together face-to-face as much.  But in the long run, isn’t it obvious that the telephone has been a net boon to communication in our society?

To close, I have to tattle on the one big gaffe made by the nice lady in the tiny box.  I guess the maps loaded into the unit were a little old, because they didn’t include the location (and probably existence) of the new consolidated BWI rental-car facility.  Despite the polite insistence that I “make a u-turn as soon as it is legal and safe”, I decided to follow the road signs pointing to “Rental Car Return”.  I had a plane to catch, and I wasn’t going to let a heap of junky technology lead me on a wild-goose chase!


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