GPS is my co-pilot, so pray for us
By Glynn Moore| Columnist
Monday, January 04, 2010

Before Christmas, I told my wife that I suspected the kids were planning to give me a GPS navigation system for my car. It was only a matter of time, I reasoned, because they all know that I have the sense of direction of a blindfolded, drunken airline pilot.

As it turned out, the kids didn't give me a GPS; my wife did. She apparently wanted to keep me from getting lost in the driveway and agonizing over the best route to take to my office -- although I work five days a week.

My lame sense of direction is not my fault. It has nothing to do with intelligence or paying attention. I had long heard that it is a matter of having the right amount of iron in our noses, but nothing seems to support that theory.

Finally, a few weeks ago, I read an article in The Week magazine saying that a part of the brain called the hippocampus determines our ability to sense location. The increased use of GPS lets us turn off the hippocampus, eventually making it even more difficult to judge our surroundings. Use it or lose it.

I'm not worried; I can't lose what I never had. I've always wandered around in circles, wondering which way I'm going and unsure whether the road runs north-south or east-west.

That's why I stay out of places that rhyme with "Atlanta." It's why I rarely go to out-of-town ball games or concerts unless someone else is driving. It's why I panic whenever a tourist asks for directions -- in my own town.

One night in high school, I took out a girl on a first date to the movies in a city I rarely visited because, well, you know. It was a long night, though it was a short date: We never found the theater, and she never went out with me again.

A few years ago, my wife and I took the scenic route from Baton Rouge, La., through Natchez, Miss. We drove for miles on a country highway without seeing the first road sign. It was midday, so the sun offered no help. Though I had begun in the right direction, we somehow drove many miles the wrong way before finding a marked road and comparing it to a map.

On Christmas Day, my son-in-law Dennis (who admits that his sense of direction is no better than mine) and I took my navigation unit for a recommended test spin to the nearest drugstore. I typed in the street address.

This much I've learned over the years: If you turn right from my subdivision, you will reach the drugstore. The infernal machine had other ideas.

"Turn left," its sweet feminine voice advised. Dennis and I looked at each other.

"Left isn't right," I said. "Left will take us far, far away."

We thought about obeying the voice, but my fuel light was aglow, and I didn't want to run out of gas while following a sweet voice all around the county. I turned right.

"Turn around as soon as you can!" the voice immediately admonished.

Instead, I pulled over and reprogrammed the unit to find the crossroads nearest the drugstore. It took us right there.

One out of two isn't bad, I suppose. It's better than my unaided efforts have been over the years.

I didn't feel so bad a few days later when I read a story in our paper about a couple who disappeared in Oregon on Christmas after their GPS unit guided them to a remote forest road on their drive home to Nevada. They were lost in the snow for three days.

Moreover, another group of travelers got lost a few days later on the same road because their GPS also misquoted the truth.

So, where does that leave me? I've decided that from now on I'll do what the sweet voice tells me, even if I think it's wrong. After all, I know my record, so it's about time to let someone else do the driving.

Reach Glynn Moore at (706) 823-3419 or glynn.moore@augustachronicle.com.

From the Monday, January 04, 2010 edition of the Augusta Chronicle
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