Merger of man with GPS offers no direction

Carter Haydu
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In many ways, I feel like a cyborg. I have, at least to some extent, outsourced memory and reason to electronic sources, and with occasional undesirable consequences.

Take an experience I had with my Global Positioning System (GPS) unit the other day. I was attempting to drive to Paradise Valley, Alta. via Swift Current. Unsure of the route I would take, I predictably typed my desired destination once in the city “where life makes sense,” fully expecting the drive from there to Alberta would be as seamless as was the one from Moose Jaw to Swifty.

Of course, something went wrong. Apparently, my GPS has it in her to take the most ignorant route imaginable whenever I try to go to Dad’s farm from Swift Current. I’ve made the trek three times, and each time the little electronic device takes me on a completely new and unintelligible path.

On this most recent occasion, the directions actually led to nowhere.

Imagine my horror, when after snaking through countless gravel roads in what must be the most rural area of rural Saskatchewan, I found myself on a riverbank where the British accent of my GPS then instructed me to “take ferry.” There was no ferry.

I had to backtrack for, like, 30 minutes, until finding a more major paved highway, which I then headed down until the stupid GPS stopped trying to take me back to the non-existent ferry route, and instead picked a less stupid path to PV. But the horror didn’t stop with one near-water disaster. That little GPS unit made sure I took as scenic a route as possible all the way to my desired destination.

Upon texting my one particular Moose Jaw friend to share with her the ridiculousness of this ill-gotten misadventure, her response was simply: “Why don’t you have a real map!”

As unnecessarily harsh as her using an exclamation mark at the end of that statement-question might have been, I nonetheless appreciate what I choose to interpret as a friendly sentiment. A simple five-second glance at a road map would have told me taking Highway 4 north to North Battleford, followed with a trek west down Highway 40 until it meets with Highway 14 in Alberta, is the least confused, most simplest way to reach home. But I don’t even own a roadmap anymore.

As have so many others in these contemporary times, I have given the map-reading aspect of myself over to technology. Heck, the only time I every even look at an “actual” map is on Google, and then it’s just for novelty purposes.

The GPS is an amazing device — that is for sure. I don’t know how people got around modern cities without the things. However, I will be the first to admit a somewhat unhealthy dependency on this imperfect technology. It’s not the first time I’ve found myself in such a conundrum either.

As with any reporter, I too have found myself in that predictable crisis of having thought I recorded an interview with my digital recorder, only to discover back at the office that the darn thing wasn’t working, and I hadn’t taken the necessary backup notes with which to write the story. There are few humiliations as grand as having to call a source back and ask the person to say everything he or she just told me five minutes prior, because I didn’t bother to write down what he or she said initially.

It’s odd. I know how to write in shorthand and it’s actually quite easy for me, yet the temptation to just rely on imperfect technology is simply too great.

But it’s all a part of being a modern human. Even as I type this column, I perhaps rely too much on the word-processing program to tell me when I’ve spelt a word incorrectly, rather than pay full attention to how words longer than two syllables are actually spelt.

I guess we are all outsourcing certain aspects of human behaviour to these unthinking computation whatnots. I’m sure the iPhone has essentially destroyed my memory for such simple tasks as recalling phone numbers and what date it is. It’s stupid the number of times someone has asked me my phone number, only for me to clumsily fumble through the list of contacts on my cellphone to find the seven-digits that have been my own contact information for several years now.

There was a time, quite recently actually, where I could recall from memory several phone numbers through the power of my own brain. There was a time I managed to get around Edmonton with nothing but a city map and an understanding of the grid system (which admittedly doesn’t work so well in newer suburban non-grid neighbourhoods). Those days, however, are in the past.

In many ways, I think the merger of ‘Man and Machine’ has come to fruition. It’s only natural that as these new technologies of convenience come online, people will adopt the change and forget how they managed the corresponding simple tasks on their own. Like a proverbial lemming though, I have found myself helplessly following the GPS down some derelict dirt road to nowhere, rather than resort to my God-given commonsense to easily achieve what it is I wish to achieve.

In this most recent example of a GPS faux pas, it turned a five-hour drive into an eight-hour one. If I am a cyborg, I’m certainly in need of an upgrade.


Carter Haydu can be reached at 691-1265.

Organizations: Global Positioning System, Google, Man and Machine

Geographic location: Paradise Valley, Swift Current, Alberta Moose Jaw Saskatchewan North Battleford Edmonton

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