Friday, April 17, 2009

GPStupid

     Invariably, as I travel around I always come upon some car that features a huge, gaudy, GPS screen mounted right in the middle of the windshield where back in the day we used to mount radar detectors.  Always.  And it's always dutifully showing the route that the vehicle in question is taking at a ridiculously small scale.  This is extra-hilarious on the freeway because in general if you are on a trip on the freeway you are basically going straight on the same highway for hundreds and hundreds of miles, so that little screen just keeps showing an arrow moving straight over and over and over for hour after hour after hour, which is the most retarded thing in the world.  Well, not the most but it is right up there.  And I am going to tell you why: If you are on an Interstate and you need a GPS to keep telling you to go straight mile after mile after mile then you probably shouldn't be driving.
     Just in case you haven't figured it out yet, please allow my give this comparison so that you might see my stance on the GPS issue.  I don't have a little screen anywhere on my dashboard region that displays anything.  While that tool in the SUV is staring at the GPS for mile after mile my road atlas is lying comfortably in my back seat next to an ever growing pile of Mountain Dew bottles.  Yep, I prefer the old way of sitting down before I go and figuring out where I need to turn and whatnot.  I don't need a voice and a screen to tell me once I get there.  And you know why?  Because then this type of stuff doesn't happen to me.  I found the following article on a local TV station's website, but it originally came from the Associated Press:

Langlade, Wis (AP) - A motorist relying on a GPS navigation unit found out the hard way that technology is not always the answer.
     Sheriff's officials said the Oshkosh woman was going from the White Lake area to Laona through heavily wooded Langlade County Tuesday when the best routing from the GPS sent her onto a road that forked into a snowmobile trail.
     Several miles down the frozen path she stopped and couldn't turn around in about a foot and a half of snow surrounding the car.
     She called 911 at 10:44 a.m.
     Deputy Keith Svoboda said it took a while to find her and much longer to get heavy equipment in to free the vehicle.  Deputies dropped her at a motel for the night.
     Svoboda said the lesson is, "People shouldn't believe everything those things tell you."

    Well okay then.  This is the first time I have ever heard about this happening but let's be honest, it's happened somewhere before.  Those people were just lucky enough to be able to get themselves out of their predicament.  And it's happened with maps too, I have to admit.  There have been times when even I have been using a map and a road or trail I have turned down hasn't been what I thought it would be.  But the thing about using a map is that you either have to have someone riding with you or you sort of have to stop ahead of time and plan, so that when you are doing the driving you are actually paying attention.  With a GPS?  Not always the case.  This lady obviously wasn't paying attention, because when my GPS tells me to turn down a road that is very obviously dirt or gravel and is very obviously not well traveled, that is about the time I am going to tell my GPS to go f#@k itself.  Oh yeah.  
     The reason that this lady got in trouble is because she is dumb and put too much faith into her technology without knowing how it works.  And she didn't have enough faith in herself.  Anyone who knows a little about computers or searching knows that your GPS is either going to search by shortest route or by shortest time, and that if it's going by route it's not going to differentiate between types of roads.  The GPS won't care if it is a freeway or a deer trail, if it's shorter it will choose it and send you down it.  And sometimes, mapmakers and software engineers put roads on their maps that really shouldn't be.  If you put too much faith in the GPS and the work these people in far off cubicles have done then you are going to end up like the lady in our story: embarrassed, lucky to be alive, and stuck with a hefty extraction bill.
    Now, I know many people who have GPS units and love them.  And use them extensively.  And that's okay.  There is nothing wrong with using the technology to help you get where you are going.  But the key is that you can't put complete and total faith in it.  There are too many x-factors in the real world that can't be programmed into a little screen that suction cups to your windshield, okay?  Maybe addresses are on the wrong side of the street on one particular block.  Maybe two roads have been rerouted so a left turn is now a straight ahead.  Or maybe the little red line you are supposed to be following is my neighbors from walk.  You have to be aware of what's going on around you and be willing and able to use your common sense when things stop feeling right.  If this lady would have just payed attention and stayed on the state highway when she turned off into the woods she would have found her way no problem eventually.  In fact, she would have been seeing signs pointing towards her destination in about a half hour, and everyone would have been happier.  So please use your brains, Company.  Because technology is great but only if you are smart enough to interpret it.  Okay?

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