In addition to the recent tales (and sitcom gags) of GPS units leading hapless drivers into bodies of water, we have a new twist on the theme: GPS units leading hapless drivers astray in Death Valley. NPR reports
After a long day, [Donna] Cooper and her family asked “Nell,” the GPS, for the shortest route back to their home.
“Please proceed to the highlighted route,” Nell said.
But what came next did not compute. The GPS told them to go 550 feet, then turn right, Cooper says.
“Well, at 550 feet it was like a little path, and then it was like, go a quarter of a mile and turn left. There was nothing there. She had me running in circles for hours and hours and hours,” she says.
A park ranger explains that this happens “a couple times a year now,” including one incident two years ago in which a mother and her son were lost on an abandoned mining road for five days and the boy died. Rangers are now working with GPS firms to update their data on small and closed-down roads, but say no amount of work will ever replace common sense when it comes to navigating desert roads. Speaking of which, what happened to Cooper’s family?
According to NPR:
A search and rescue helicopter found Cooper’s family after three days of being lost. Everyone survived, except Nell, the GPS. But that’s not what Cooper was calling her by then.
“Called her a few names,” she says. “A couple four-letter words.”
And yet, Cooper has not lost faith. She has a new GPS now, named Rosie.
Despite identifying a lack of common sense as the basic problem, NPR never asks Ms. Cooper to reflect on her experience, and how it has made her relationship with “Rosie” different than her relationship with “Nell.” Could she imagine this happening to her again, or does she take a more personal interest in navigating (and possibly, by extension, driving) now? After all, dependence on electronic gizmos is becoming an increasingly common cause of inattentive driving, which can kill you in a crash as well as strand you in the desert. And as this Mercedes commercial points out, automakers have every interest in cultivating your dependence on all kinds of systems that ultimately encourage inattentive driving.
Perhaps I’m just fascinated by anyone who can have that much trust in a computer copilot while piloting several tons of high-powered steel around. I regularly drive vehicles with and without GPS, and I admit that navigation can be addictive. But I generally prefer to use it as a map rather than a having it read directions to me, because I don’t feel comfortable blindly accepting that “the machine knows,” as Michael Scott puts it. The downside is that visually navigating a GPS screen can be a huge distraction… which is why I try to go over my route before I go somewhere new, and only use the screen to quickly orient myself. In other words, I can’t imagine getting lost in the desert by blindly following my GPS in circles… but I can imagine getting honked at because I’m looking at my screen and not at the light that just turned green. And you know what? I feel fairly comfortable with the tradeoff.