Alright, I’m going to settle this once and for all.
Conman has responded to my anger-induced tirade about GPS and has included the following quote:
Yes, you got us from Deepest Darkest Florida to our hotel room via GPS, but damn if it didn’t take us a very circuitous (if not very dark, and deer prone) route. A GPS does you no good if you need to get from Anaheim to El Segundo and it has you going through Compton.
Once again, I will reiterate that I personally do not care how circuitous the route was. We got to our hotel, and that was that.Again, I’m a very results-oriented individual.
So, for shits and giggles, let’s compare the two routes back to the hotel I could’ve taken.
I must preface this by setting the stage for you, dear reader: We four–myself, Conman, Bunny, and PipeWrench, are visiting a friend in a very rural Northern Florida town (Blountstown, to be precise). It’s 12:00, maybe 1:00am. It is pitch black outside. The rural roads in Blountstown are barely even paved (and some aren’t), forget about them being at all illuminated by whatever government runs the place up there. My Prius’s standard, non-HID headlights are doing a fair-to-midland job of illuminating the road ahead of us, but not much else. I am equipped with my ever-present Mag-Lite flashlight, as well as a second LED flashlight I’d purchased at a gas station on the way up. My failing memory being what it is, I consulting the U.S. Navy’s moon-phase website to try to remember if I even had any moonlight at my disposal, and the answer is no. It was pitch black. Blacker than Hitler’s heart. Blacker than a black cat on a pile of coal at midnight on a moonless night–much like the one I had to navigate during.
Now, the goal here is to successfully navigate from the middle of fucking nowhere back to I-10 eastbound (and, subsequently, back to our motel in Tallahassee) in the middle of the night with zero illumination we don’t actually provide ourselves. However, I have an ace-in-the-hole; Aiding me in this task is Chives–a Garmin Nüvi 350 (which has since been discontinued by Garmin in favor of newer, more feature-rich models, but oddly, I prefer bare, elegant simplicity in my GPS devices):
The Garmin Nüvi 350
Lastly, I’m naturally not going to betray my friend’s address; but suffice to say that he lives not too far away from the church I’m using as my starting point. I’m also not going to show the entire route back to the hotel–because it was directly on I-10 and several miles to the east. No, I want you, fair reader, to see the routes in question in detail.
So here is the first route. This is the route picked by my Nüvi, as well as Google Maps, and the route I ultimately followed to I-10:
Route 1, favored by the Garmin and Google Maps
The route was naturally picked by both Google Maps and by the GPS as being the most efficient. Of course, neither the GPS nor Google Maps have any way of knowing that these shitball roads weren’t illuminated and that I was going to have to navigate this route in total darkness on a moonless night.
Here then is the second, perhaps better, route; the only other route from my friend’s house to the Interstate and one that would’ve certainly been favored by Conman as being decidedly non-circuitous:
A less-circuitous route
Did both routes lead to I-10? yes. Did I know about them both? No–I only knew about the first one, and frankly, being as unfamiliar with the area as I was, there was absolutely no guarantee that the second route was any less deer-infested (Conman’s major sticking point that I had chosen… poorly) than the first one. The only thing that can be said with any certainty is that the second route was straighter. Frankly, the second route wasn’t that far out of the way, and would’ve provided a straight shot to the Interstate. But here’s the thing, see: I didn’t know about it, and neither did anybody in the car with me, including Conman. I would’ve had to tell the GPS how to take me along that route, and because of my unfamiliarity with the area, I didn’t automatically know that such a route even existed.
When both Google Maps and my Nüvi selected their routes, they weighted FL-69 the same as myriad local roads that made up the “more circuitous” first route because somewhere, some NAVTEQ cartographer has assigned them all the same weight. Looking at a paper map, and with the clarity of hindsight, a strong argument could perhaps be made that the second route may have been better. But I didn’t have a paper map of Blountstown with me; all I had was Chives and three tired, nervous passengers who were wondering–as I was–where the hell we were, and wanted to get back to the relative safety of the motel.
So this is what I consistently get beat up over when Conman talks about the GPS. I think I did a damn good job ensuring the safety of my passengers during that trip, and don’t deserve to be beaten up afterward for not taking the “most efficient” route back to the motel. That’s roughly analogous with saying “Gee, mister, thanks for saving my life, but you sure could’ve done it better: here’s how.” There’s gratitude for you. How about some props for me getting us from Light-My-Fart, Florida back to the motel in Tallahassee without driving around in circles lost for three days and getting us all there alive and in one piece?
A couple of times, as we were making our way along the first route, Conman asked: “Where is your GPS taking us!?” I replied with “Back to the motel.” And, ultimately, I was right; to directly address one of Conman’s main criticisms of GPS, I’ll use his reply to my last post as a reference:
“A GPS does you no good if you need to get from Anaheim to El Segundo and it has you going through Compton:”
I submit to you this: yes, this route does indeed go through Compton. But it does so on limited-access interstates and state roads. And besides: I DEFY you to show me on a PAPER MAP where it says “Compton is a dangerous neighborhood.“
Uh-huh. I thought so.
My point: if you don’t know the area to begin with, it makes NO FUNDAMENTAL DIFFERENCE if you pick the route yourself, with a paper map, or the GPS receiver picks the route for you. Neither technology (and yes, paper maps are considered a technology) will give you information on what areas are dangerous and what areas are not.
I’m sure my passengers were nervous; the route was indeed dark and spooky. Because of that, I took the route it picked very slow, easy, and carefully. Never once during the trip did I eschew common sense in favor of the GPS, nor give up my sense of driving intuition to Chives. Chives wasn’t driving the car, I was. Me. The whole time.
Had I seen a ditch in front of us, I wouldn’t have blindly driven into it because the GPS told me to, and I find it kind of offensive that someone would think I would. Sure, there is the odd story of folks who blindly follow their GPS while simultaneously abandoning common sense. But even as the amount of these stories increase, they are still very few and very far between when compared to the thousands and thousands of times, every day, that GPS technology is employed properly, responsibly and achieves its desired result: Getting someone un-lost, or getting them to their destination with a minimum of fuss.
In closing, I am reminded of a line from “Inherit the Wind,” spoken by Spencer Tracy whilst playing the role of Henry Drummond:
“Gentlemen, progress has never been a bargain, you have to pay for it. Sometimes I think there’s a man who sits behind a counter who says, ‘Alright, you can have a telephone: but you lose privacy, and the charm of distance. Madam, you may vote, but at a price: you lose the right to retreat behind a powder puff or a petticoat. Mister, you may conquer the air–but the birds will lose their wonder, and the clouds will smell of gasoline.’”