Friday, January 26, 2007
Just following directions
"Turn left in one-point-two miles." Her voice was pleasant and confident. One-point-two miles later, she said, "Turn left here." No rising tone of anxiety, only a calm certainty that we would follow her instructions.
We missed the turn. Her silence as we pulled into a parking lot and reversed course to fix our error was so sweetly uncritical that it almost made my teeth ache.
"Exit in four-point-three miles," she said, as if nothing had gone wrong. No "How 'bout listening to me this time?" No "Maybe if you stopped talking for just a few minutes and watched the road"
She was a very different driving companion from my husband.
My friends Judy and Ann and I were heading to a retreat house in Connecticut. The distance was about 75 miles and we had neither map nor printout with us. We had only Ann's new GPS navigation device, adhered securely to the windshield, encouraging us ever onward with its automated female voice preprogrammed for relentless patience.
Ann has driven with a number of female friends in the car since she acquired the new device, which she nicknamed GG, last month. "Everyone talks about GG like she's a person, and everyone says the same thing about her," she said. "They all say, 'She's so non-judgmental. She just tells you what you should do without ever getting impatient or irritable.'"
"What happens if you simply choose to ignore her?" I asked. "Like if you decide to continue to the Burger King two exits beyond your turn, or if you see a traffic jam you want to avoid?"
Complete change of plans
"She says, 'Recalculating,' meaning she's going to come up with new routing based on your decision," Ann explained.
Recalculating. One word to sum up a complete change of plans. I tried to imagine putting that into my own vocabulary. The editor wants the story done tomorrow instead of ten days from now? Recalculating. The eight-year-old woke up with a stomach ache and can't possibly go to school on the day that I have to attend a crucial meeting? Recalculating. I expected that by the time I reached my current age I'd have at least one postgraduate degree as well as comprehensive medical coverage? Recalculating.
Ann thinks everyone should get one. "I don't know," I said warily. "I don't use cruise control. I don't even program my phone's speed dial because I'm afraid I'll forget everyone's phone numbers if I do. I don't think I want to relegate that much control. Shouldn't I make at least a token effort to know where I am and where I'm going?"
"Well, it certainly has made a big difference to me," Ann replied. "I never get lost anymore trying to find clients' homes; I never waste time on Mapquest. GG takes care of it for me. And she's always right!"
And that's when I realized what bothered me. It wasn't that GG could do too much; it was that she could do too little. I didn't just want GPS technology for my car; I wanted it for every element of my life. I wanted a pleasant, unflappable voice guiding me through my workday ("Finish the business report before you go get coffee") and well into the evening ("Tell the children it's time to turn off the TV and start their homework.") I wanted it to tell me what to make for dinner and what to give my husband for his birthday.
The road less taken
But no. Think of Robert Frost, a voice inside my head (whose tone was much more stern than GG's) counseled. Remember "I took the road less traveled, and that has made all the difference." Weren't there all kinds of proverbs about the important things you can find only when you lose your way?
Well, yes; there probably were. But I didn't necessarily think those proverbs referred to getting lost en route to the dentist's office. At times like that, I thought it was probably worthwhile to be accurate and punctual, not to explore the road less taken.
A variety of voices
A few miles farther into the drive, Judy came up with a provocative idea: a device just like GG but without the implacability. What if you could choose from a variety of voices and inflections? There could be the guilt-inducing grandmother voice: "Fine, don't listen to me, what do I know? Get there your way, but don't complain to me when you end up in the wrong state." The personal-coach voice, saying "It's not a question of which turn to take but how you're going to make the decision. Are you going to ask other people for an opinion? Do some research? Or just base it on intuition?" Or my four-year-old's voice: "Why didn't you take that turn when I said to? You would have done it if Tim had asked! Mom, put your listening ears on!"
I decided I'd stick with self-reliance, my spiral-bound map book and an understanding that I was destined to get lost about half the time whenever I tried to get to a new place. But GG had taught me a crucial lesson about how to fix my mistakes: Recalculating. I could live without the GPS unit, but I planned to take the buzz word and run with it. Or drive with it, as the case may be.
© 2007 The Carlisle Mosquito