Taking Direction


Perhaps coming late to the party, I recently acquired a talkative Global Positioning System (GPS) that sits on the dashboard of my car. It shows me an electronic map of the road ahead, telling me exactly how much faster than the speed limit I’m going, and estimating how late I’m going to be when I arrive.
I think I understand how it works. Somewhere in space, a satellite is monitoring every twist and turn of my little Mazda and reporting these meanderings to a vast computer network, which beams me the maps and directions. It’s all pretty amazing and a little disconcerting in a Big Brotherish way. Hypothetically, do I really want some electronic busybody knowing that I occasionally drive to Atlantic City? I might start getting junk mail from Donald Trump’s evil empire.
Even so, I’m addicted. I take the GPS with me everywhere I drive, even if it’s just to the other side of the neighborhood. The robotic but not unpleasant male voice – my wife calls him “Charles” – issues orders to “turn right at Summit Avenue” or “In 1.3 miles, turn left at State Highway.” And I think, “Yes sir”…or maybe not; I don’t always follow his commands. When I go my own way, he’s patient, though, and simply murmurs “recalculating” – and then delivers updated instructions.
He certainly knows his way around. The only area of Jersey City that confuses him a bit is the Tonnelle Circle. But that mess could confuse even a cab-driving Einstein.
“Charles” is my new best friend, I’ve decided. Since he’s been riding with me, I haven’t gotten lost once, something that used to happen regularly, as my sense of direction is pretty senseless. I don’t think I’ll get tired of his velvety synthetic voice, but if I do, there’s an option to switch to a mellifluous female persona. That might start to feel a little TOO personal though. – Michael Gates


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