Dueling GPS

My wife’s suspicion of technology has expanded to include GPS. It’s in her DNA; my mother in law recently emailed us an article about people getting dumber because of navigation systems. To paraphrase: maps are great and anything with a battery is full of demonic trickery aimed at turning humans against nature, truth, family, spirit and wholesomeness.

Their public skepticism of technology  is a smokescreen used to distract family and friends from the indefensible reality that they trust themselves more than a computer.

That’s the principal difference between my wife and me, and it’s the foundation of why our marriage works. She thinks nothing will be done right unless she does it herself, and I think the only way things can be done correctly is if I’m not involved.  She wants to be in charge and I’m desperate not to be.

But my life boss isn’t around all the time to tell me when to turn left or how not to tailgate a tractor-trailer. In those lonely and confusing times, I rely on technology to keep me alive and on schedule. As much as I appreciate her zeal for wearing the decision pants, I would find it soothing if she had even a shred of faith in satellites, algorithms, historical trends, and silicon processors that do a billion calculations every nanosecond. To me, computers are only wrong when you ask them dumb questions. My wife believes computers are wrong because she has trouble trusting anything that doesn’t cry.

I generally drive on car trips because it’s the only masculine thing I’m allowed to do anymore, save carrying luggage. Unfortunately, that permission was only granted because I’m a sissy who gets nauseous unless he’s behind the wheel.

I should be clear, I don’t make any decisions while driving. I’m more of an automaton awaiting the input of my commander. Our car has a navigation system, but the minister of travel insists on simultaneously studying google maps, which she still calls “Mapquest” to either confirm or refute the turn by turn instructions provided by the AMAZING COMPUTER in our car.

GPS: “In a quarter-mile, turn left.”

Lindsay: “You’re gonna turn left up here in a bit.”

Me: “Yea, thanks, the GPS designed by genius MIT graduates just told me the same thing.

Lindsay: “Oh, I see — it’s taking you on a different route. Not quite as direct as the one here on mapquest. That’s weird, I wonder why it did that.”

Me: “Probably a complicated algorithm based on distance, speed limits, and historical traffic patterns going back for decades.”

Lindsay: “Hmmm, seems sort of out of the way, but whatever.”

GPS: “Turn left.”

Lindsay: “Left Left Left!”

Me: “Do I turn left? Because I’m getting mixed signals here.”

At one point this winter, Lindsay was using her “mapquest” while my dad was in the backseat studying some navigation app he got for free with the purchase of his phone. All three of us were getting different directions to the same place. Pirates trying to sail to uncharted land in the 16th century had less trouble agreeing on a route.

Now, at the beginning of a trip, I force everyone to decide which GPS we’re using, and make them turn off all other “apps” and “mapquests”, like a suburban mom collecting her kid’s phones before a nice family dinner. “No texting at the table! We’re having beans and wieners!”

My only issue with my GPS is that it’s too specific. I don’t need to be told what to do every 15 feet. “Stay left, then stay left, and then take the exit right.” WHAT? oh, you’re telling me not to take the next two exits. “Get in the left lane, and then stay right.” What? You want me to stay in the right part of the left lane? Why are you micromanaging the shit out of me here, Samantha? That’s honestly her name.

“In 500 feet, merge right, then stay left.”  Thanks, Sam, you’re just as confusing as the rest of the women in my life.

I'm a contributing writer to Parents Magazine, GQ, Psychology Today and some others. My book, "This is Ridiculous. This is Amazing: Parenthood in 71 Lists" is available here http://bit.ly/1exfm34. Look for two more books in 2015: "Must. Push. Buttons (Bloomsbury Kids), and an as-of-yet untitled memoir I’ve appeared on Comedy Central’s “Live at Gotham” and “Nick Mom’s Night Out." I live in New Jersey with my wife and two sons and enjoy making them laugh more than anyone else.

17 comments On Dueling GPS

  • I love using maps to plan my route, but even I have to admit the incredible convenience of having a GPS. Ours is named Karen, and while she normally lives in my husband's car, I get to borrow her every now and then. We talk about her like she's a real person – "Karen screwed up and sent me the wrong way," or "Karen told me to turn left here so I'm turning." If we're mad at her, she's simply referred to as "The Gippis" (as in, GPS pronounced).

  • Occasionally Silas chimes in to repeat Samantha (usually accurately) "Stay left, then stay left, and then take the exit right" just cause he thinks she's funny.

  • My husband bought a GPS for Mother's Day several years ago – the day before leaving for vacation to Myrtle Beach. He said we'd only follow it's directions. No map, no Mapquest. Right before getting into SC, it made us take a side road. We drove through tiny towns, trailer parks, and had alligator sightings. We ended up over two hours late to our destination. I looked at a map – if we had stayed on the highway, there was a direct route to the beach. We tried it again the next year – same thing. Apparently, it hates using 95S into South Carolina. And yes – we had the button for "highways" ON. We decided to call our GPS "Hillary" because it was always wrong. (Note: this was during the democratic primaries when she was running; we actually like her now [not the GPS] and would rather she run the country than any one else – and her hubby would love to be in the White House again with all the interns, er, I mean, memories.)

    Years later, we now use his iPhone vs. my Droid. My Droid wins every time. His iPhone tells us to turn AFTER we go by the exit. Yeah, really helpful.

  • I learned to read maps at a young age, mostly since my mom couldn't. I have a habit of mapping a destination on paper (using different colored highlighters for each trip) if I don't know where I am going, then committing the major route changes to memory based on the assupmtion (note the ASS in assumption) that my co-pilot will be

    a) talking on the phone

    b) texting on the phone

    c) playing on the phone

    d) yelling at other passengers

    e) yelling at other drivers who cannot possibly hear him

    f) yelling at ME because I did not follow the directions his stupid GPS that has not been updated in 8 years gave me.

    Besides, I'm gifted. If I've been there once, 99% of the time I can get there again wihout the aid of a map, GPS, or assistant smart-ass telling me where to turn around after they forgot to mention the right turn a half mile ago ;)

    • oh Julie, a kindred map maker. If someone asks me where something is I've been known to break out a pen and whatever paper product is nearby (most recently a bar napkin when someone tried telling me that they were going UP to Virginia from NYC…my snarky geographically gifted self nearly imploded.) But since I like to zone out on car trips (and don't really drive) and my husband can't be trusted to remember how to get us out of a cul-de-saq, I let Sally the GPS (she's Australian, we like our directions with an accent) tell him where to go.

  • I'm generally a slave to the GPS. But I also have a healthy disrespect for computers. They're good at math, but not so good at applying it to my world. I once had a GPS lead me terribly astray. I was trying to reach a party at my husband's school, and had to go through a freeway intersection that was a little unintuitive. The path I wanted was to go straight (northward), but following the road signs actually meant a switch from a freeway called 880N to one called 80E. To make things worse, the "straight" path involved veering off in a slightly different direction. Of course I didn't take it. Of course I wound up in the 20,000 lane merge for the 2.3 toll booths (at rush hour), leading me on the 6 mile bridge across the bay into the rat's nest of streets in San Francisco (well I managed to turn around halfway across the bridge on an island exit, so maybe I shouldn't complain). Of course I had to pay a toll uselessly.

    It's all because I trusted the GPS blindly. If I'd only looked at a map beforehand I would have realized the ugly interchange was coming. So now my policy is to trust, but verify. Besides, my phone batteries might run out.

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