HALLIE EPHRON: Confession: I used to be able to read a map. I could hold it out in front of me and say, "Here's me!" And "Here's where I want to go." And I'd be right and I could get there.
For long drives to places I'd never been, I'd print out directions. If my husband were traveling with me, he’d read the directions and I’d yell back at him, things like “What do you mean, turn right? That’s not a street…” Or if I were traveling alone I'd try to juggle the map and steer, very challenging in the daytime and nearly impossible at night.
I usually got there and often it was not pretty, but at least I had some sense of the path I’d taken to get there could usually retrace my steps without a hitch. Bonus points: the map in my head of known geography grew each time I ventured out as new, heretofore unknown geographies connected to known.
Now I rely on my GPS and follow its instructions, my sense of where I am has been reduced to the size of that tiny screen. I use my GPS driving. I use it walking. I follow where it tells me to go even when the directions are plainly wrong (easy to do in Los Angeles, for instance, where several streets by the same name, and unless you know the zip code you’re in trouble.) Nothing makes me more relaxed than knowing if I go wrong it will tell me, in the calmest possible tone of voice, "Turn around when possible."
Having a GPS has elevated taking long cuts to an art. Recently my husband I let it to guide us out of a mall parking lot to the local highway -- a distance of .4 miles which took us 5 minutes with a leisurely detour through the surrounding suburb. Zen. As long as my GPS doesn't crap out and then I am well and truly lost.
Do you use a GPS, and has your mental map of the world around you atrophied?
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Love love love it. Usually. When I am going to an event, at night, in an unfamiliar place, it is such a lifesaver. And it's made me realize how much of my energy in the past was used thinking "what if I get LOST?!) We have WAZE, which is miraculous, because it "knows" the traffic based on reports from other drivers. So sometimes WAZE will send us a way the we know is not the way we would have chosen--but "WAZE KNOWS!" I always say. And it really works.
GPS does take away the necessity to know where you are in the universe--because context really doesn't matter, it's just distance to destination. So if we are driving to Pick-a-town, we may have no idea if that's north, south, whatever. And our mental picture of our journey is blank.
Another downside: when a cab or Uber driver is using it to go somewhere--and they clearly have no idea where they're going. My favorite is when the Uber driver calls me on the phone and says--I'm outside your house, where are you?
And I say--No you're not, I'm looking out the window and I can't see you.
And the driver says: Well, GPS says I am at your house!
As if that's gospel!
We call our GPS "Jeeps." And bottom line--I am grateful for her every day.
SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: We live in New York City and don't own a car. So, no GPS. When we travel and drive, we use some kind of app on the phone which acts as a GPS.
HALLIE: Last time I was in NY I tried to use the GPS on my phone to get from the subway to a restaurant near Broadway/Lafayette. Such a confusing part of the city. The GPS scrambled my brain and I had to ask a woman passerby if I was walking North. She laughed and said she has the same problem, turned me around, and sent me on my way.
LUCY BURDETTE: We have a very old version of a GPS in the car. I have been known to yell at John: "Are you going to listen to that bitch, or are you going to listen to your wife?"
Rhetorical question of course. I still love maps and like to see where I am visually and where I'm going. But we often use the maps app on the iPhone to check on traffic and get to a specific destination. I don't miss having to print out those turn by turn directions and madly scramble to read them while driving. So I'm a hybrid I guess. And losing the ability to read a map reminds me of how kids aren't taught cursive in school any more. Sigh.
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Oh, Lucy, I love that. Maybe you should get one with a male voice so it doesn't sound like John is being lured by some dame!
My sister Barb is the first person I knew who got a GPS, back when they were still very high-tech. She lives in the DC area and was always driving her two active boys all over the region for meets and lessons, not to mention her own volunteer activities. Problem was, she's terrible at navigation, and was always calling her husband Dan at work asking for directions. Remember OnStar? She had DanStar. So he got her a GPS unit for Christmas, along with a Bluetooth ear bud so she could hear it no matter how noisy the boys were. She used to say, "I just go where the voices in my head tell me."I don't have GPS, in part because I'm a Luddite, as I've mentioned before, and in part because ninety per cent of my driving is in southern Maine, where I've lived for almost twenty-nine years. Like New York City, the rural roadscape doesn't change much, and as long as you can remember local landmarks, you're fine. Ross and I have actually given each other directions that include phrases like, "Turn onto the street where the Boy's girlfriend used to live" and "First right after that spot where that old deserted house got torn down."
When traveling, I like maps and directions. Just as Hallie says, the map in my mind expands every time I drive someplace new. Despite being a scatterbrain, I'm an excellent navigator, and I usually find it relatively easy to arrive at my destination, Except Hank's house. Hank, your place is like a house in a fairy tale - impossible to find unless you've been guided there by its owner.
DEBORAH CROMBIE: I'm a multi-user. I have GPS in my car, Google Maps on my phone--and, Hank, we have WAZE! But I love maps, and I never quite trust the GPS. Supposedly, people have even driven off cliffs while mindlessly obeying... I was driving across Iowa and Nebraska on a book tour quite a few years ago, and GPS in the rent car kept telling me to turn off the highway in the middle of nowhere. I spent two days yelling, "No, I'm not getting off in the middle of a ****** cornfield, you maniac!"
I also think it's very scary that people are loosing any sense of geographical orientation. Another little brain part atrophied.
RHYS BOWEN: My IPhone is my best friend. And it talks to me in cultured British tones. I find these days that I don't bother to look up directions in advance. Just speak the address and off we go. The only time that didn't work was when I was at a conference in a strange city and followed directions to my publisher's party. It kept telling me that I had arrived but I couldn't see it. Finally I found out it was on the 20th floor! It has no direction for UP!
I also have navigation in my car which is useful to get a broader picture of where we are going. However, I am married to someone who does not trust GPS. We were driving through Phoenix once, where all streets are parallel. The GPS said, "Take Bell Road" but he wanted to take Greenway. So the GPS said "Recalculating. Take next right on 38th Street. Recalculating. Take next right on 37th Street. Recalculating...." You get the gist. Finally I exploded and said "Turn the damned thing off." "She's got to learn," he said. "She's a bloody computer!" I yelled.
So there are those who are never destined to belong to the 21st Century!
HALLIE: So today's burning question: Is your GPS your BFF or is it atrophying the part of your brain that knows which end is UP?