Monday, April 4, 2016

This is your BRAIN on GPS...

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?


  1. I have absolutely no sense of direction and can get lost going around the block . . . that makes my GPS, christened Miss Martha by my granddaughter, a really good friend.

  2. I love paper maps. My whole family does. But I so agree about driving solo at night to a library or place I've never been - the phone GPS saves me every time! Often these days if I'm driving with Hugh, I'll just use the maps app on the phone without getting directions. Like Julia I'm an excellent navigator and I confess I like keeping that part of my brain active.

  3. I am so visually oriented that I have to see the geography--see the roads, the turns, etc., to get where I want to go--so prefer maps. I find GPS hopelessly distracting, even when another person in the car is using it to tell me where to go (no pun intended). And one of the most fascinating articles I've ever read was about a woman who had NO navigational sense--literally--the parts of her brain that help us map the world did not function correctly for her. Getting across the street from a hotel, for instance, to a restaurant could result in her getting lost.

  4. Wow, it's hard to imagine being that map-impaired FChurch. This reminds me that there are certain cities that I can manage (like Rome) and others where John's brain does better (DC, for example.)

    And sounds like Rhys's John and I would do just fine together in a car!

  5. My sympathies, FChurch. I'm not map impaired, but lately for some reason I find my instinct is 99% of the time 180 degrees wrong. If I look at the map and think I should turn RIGHT I can depend on LEFT as the correct direction. This is why I love going to New York - One short block in either direction and you've got your compass set.

    Edith, don't you think another upside of being the navigator is you get to be "in charge?" Speaking for myself....

  6. I am hysterical here. And Lucy? "Are you going to listen to that bitch, or are you going to listen to your wife?" Classic! And best line of the year. I now truly know what it feels like to blow coffee through my nose.

    I do not "do" North, East, South or West. Just tell me - left or right, okay? Reading a map always made my head itch and would have me all twitchy with Donald looking at me like, "what is the problem???"

    So, yes, I have fallen in love with our GPS. Even when she leads us astray, as she has been known to do. A story. When we were taking our first trip to see the assisted living care facility where we ended up moving my mom into, it took us "the long way." Except it/she got lost. Yes. She did. And we ended up in the most rural section of North Carolina mountains you can believe. Sitting in front of a beautiful RV park full of very big, very expensive RVs that looked like something the size of Willie Nelson's bus. I looked at Donald, and he looked at me and said, "I don't think so. Cranberry House is an RV park??" We laughed and laughed and were an hour late getting to the "real" Cranberry House which was not, in fact, an RV park.

    But. I will now go places all on my own that I might not have ventured on my own before GPS. I no longer have to say, "Donald, will you take me?" It is liberating and delightful and who cares if I don't know North, South, East or West? Samantha is gonna get me where I want to go.

  7. Kaye, you had ME snorting coffee. The best advertisement for GPS: "But. I will now go places all on my own that I might not have ventured on my own before GPS."

    For me it's about finding libraries I've never been in the dark. Tho often it says "You have reached your destination" and I'm STILL lost even though the library really is there and not 20 stories up. I've gotten out of the car and asked someone, only to be pointed to the building across the street.

  8. Does anyone remember pre-GPS Google maps? Yes, they worked, but it was always clear a computer, not a human, figured it out....

  9. I use my GPS but, when traveling any distance, I have to have a paper copy of directions. Too insecure without it.
    I can't read a map, or a sewing pattern. I can read a recipe, though.

  10. My first experience with GPS was with a Brit named Tim on my Tom-Tom. I've always wanted to have a British man talking to me, but when Tim started giving me directions that I knew were blatantly wrong, our relationship began to go south. I found myself screaming, "Tim, what are you doing to me? That's not the way. Can't I trust you?" But Tim wouldn't relent. He kept telling me to "turn around at my earliest possible opportunity." I'd tell him he wasn't listening, that he was like all the other men in my life, just wanting to boss me around. In the end, the trust issues were insurmountable and I had to break up with him. Honestly, it was best for both of us.

    Now, like Hank, I turn to WAZE with its cute little symbols, letting me know what lies ahead of me, including the local gendarmes.

  11. Michele... this is SO funny! Don't you think there could be a novel or at least a short story about a woman's relationship with her GPS? Surely someone's done it.

  12. Love maps and directions with details (turn left at the refrigerator). Hate GPS. Give it our rural Maine address and you end up ten miles east of here because it refuses to acknowledge that there is a Rt. 2 West. I guess it works well in cities, but it has no grasp of rural geography.


  13. I have trust issues with GPS, and like Roberta and Deb, do a fair amount of talking (ahem) yelling back at it. Same deal with Siri, who I never summon on purpose. "How can I help you?" she asks. "Go away," I say.

    It's probably a matter of practice with the GPS, getting the hang of telling her where we are going and seeing if she's as good as her smug tone implies.

  14. I'm still reading the blog and will add something else, I'm sure. I just wanted to comment here that, Lucy, you owe me a keyboard. I just spit tea all over this one :) How hysterical. My husband and I often have the same discussion!

  15. WAZE sounds awesome. I have to look into that. Right now we have Onstar in the car and the ubiquitous iPhone which is what we really use since Onstar doesn't seem as convenient. No visual. Rhys, I use the male version of Siri - he has a wonderful Brit accent. If you don't use him already, give him a try.

  16. Lucy, I agree with Kaye: best line of the year. A friend had the first Garmin I ever saw, which she called Charmin. We used her when we were together in other cities, and my friend always got mad at me for calling Charmin a bitch for her snooty "Recalculating" every five minutes.

    I love maps, and I love to drive, and GPS just adds to my enjoyment of a trip. Year before last I drove the equivalent of coast to coast, twice. On our way back from San Diego, we took our time and stopped to visit a bunch of friends and family, and we had three different GPS methods with us: the GPS built into the car, the one on my phone, and a Garmin. Since we're both geography geeks, we amused ourselves for 2500 miles by comparing all three GPS sources. (One had altitude, which was fun to watch.) They were all different, FYI.

    Recently, I was trying to get from a funeral on the west side of Cincinnati to my chiropractor's office in Mt. Lookout (neighborhood on the east side), so I plugged in the name of the practice to my car's GPS. Luckily, I am familiar with their actual office, because the GPS wanted me to go to their old address, where they moved from more than five years ago.

  17. I learned to read a map a long time ago (in Girl Scouts) and I can still do it. And when I want to look at a big picture or a really long distance (if, for example, I was crazy enough to drive to Los Angeles from Pittsburgh), I'd look at a map.

    But for travel directions - especially when I'm solo? Yeah, GPS. Or rather Google Maps on my iPhone. Even when the directions seem crazy, they tend to work. I got in trouble once thinking I knew better. Nope. Now it's just "listen to the nice woman on the phone and go where she tells me to go."

    My husband, retired Army, has a navigation system in his car. I asked him, "GPS or maps?" He voted GPS - but he won't throw away all the maps in his glove compartment. Just in case.

    Oh, I've taught both my kids to read maps - just in case. Although The Boy is a Scout, so he would have learned anyway. The Girl and I are both a bit North/South/East/West challenged if the sun isn't visible, though.

  18. I just thought of a dear friend, now long-deceased, who used to travel to consumer shows 40 weeks a year, by herself. This was in the 90's, before GPS, but Mary Ellen was brilliant. She plotted her route, wrote down the turn-by-turns, then narrated them into an audiotape, with pauses after each step. Then she'd play the tape in her little pickup truck. She could rewind it, if she needed to, and not have to worry about trying to wrangle maps while driving. Of course she still had maps in the car, in case of detours, but the tapes were her main navigation tools.

  19. Hurray! I am home! So happy. I arrived at Boston Logan at 2 am from California--so now I have no idea what time it is . I woke up a while ago and said to Jonathan- am I supposed to be tired? But I will always recognize home! Hurray.

    Oh, don't get me wrong. I love maps. Love. ANd as I fly, I always put up the route map on the screen. It's fun to see where we are, and imagine what's beneath. It's a wonderful geography lesson. ANd at the maps in the back of the inflight magazine,too, no matter how many times I've looked at them--seeing how far it is to somewhere, or figuring what's the farthest I could go. Live it.

    But actually getting somewhere on my own? No way. Flora, I am empathetic with that woman. I inevitably turn the wrong way. ANd then when I think HA! I'm wrong so I'll go the other way..that'll be wrong, too.

  20. All hail the prescient Mary Ellen--that is BRILLIANT, Karen in Ohio.

    Remember Trip-Tiks? That AAA used to provide? Oh,those were fabulous.

  21. North? Don't get me started. I don't even comprehend compasses. Why do I need to known which way North is? What good will that do? If someone says : Go north on Main Street? ::blows out breath: : Just tell me to go toward the store with the red awning. Or point: that way.

    I have used the sun, though, to figure out, say, which side of the train to sit on to see the water.

    And I am kind of teasing about some of this--I CAN read maps, with much delight, and am very happy to do so.

  22. I always orient NORTH in Manhattan - WEST is what matters (toward the ocean) in LA. In Boston where the streets are paved-over cowpaths, knowing which way is north doesn't help.

    WHen my husband tells me to turn left, I'm tempted to ask "which left" -- he often confused left and right (I wonder if it's because he's lefthanded).

  23. Yes! I'd forgotten about Trip-Tiks! They were great.

    Mary Ellen basically turned the Trip-Tik idea into an audio version, didn't she?

    I also have trouble with cardinal directions. In Colorado, everyone always says "the mountains are in the west". Then I'm either standing someplace where the mountains are obscured, or I look around and ALL I see are mountains. So not helpful.

  24. Well, years ago, Jonathan and I were somewhere, HIngham MA? And LOST. And I kept saying--If the water is on the right, we're gong north, so we're fine.

    It was a PENINSULA.

  25. Hank, I loved Trip-Tiks! My parents always used them on car trips when I was a child. How fun.

    This winter in London, after years of carrying around my A-Z (THE London map book, which comes in every size from huge to pocket) I had a plan that allowed me full service on my phone, hence Google maps. It was great! When I remembered to use it.

    I rather pride myself on my sense of direction and my ability to get around in London without getting lost. Which is how I ended up walking a good five miles in the completely wrong direction, in the dark, in absolutely bitter cold. I only realized what I'd done when I stopped recognizing the bus stops. It took Google maps and multiple buses to get me where I was going. Next time, Uber!

  26. I grew up using maps (not surprising, given my age). I like them and I'm rather proficient with them.
    I'll check MapQuest, or such, copy,not print, the directions, putting them in my own shorthand. LFT RT etc.
    I know GPS can really be handy, especially since it's harder to get proper maps today.
    I haven't converted yet.
    Almost everyone has a story about yelling at their GPS and calling it impolite names!
    At least it's entertaining.

  27. My 2005 Prius came with GPS. I'll admit the novelty had me for a few months, but as a die-hard map user, I quickly gave it up. Still have the car and any passenger with me usually consults their phone and will "compete" with the car's GPS. Ridiculous!

  28. I'm loving everyone's stories. Debs, I'd really have to trust Google Maps to give up my A-Z in London. Hallie mentioned how hard it is to navigate the almost 400-year-old cowpaths of Boston - in London they've been adding roads here and there since the Roman occupation.

    I do like Google maps, and like Libby, I'll jot down the directions in my own hand to remember them. I love the mileage count. I have to confess, now I have a Kindle Fire, I bring it along in the car with the maps preloaded. Easier than folding the paper ones over the steering wheel while at a red light!

    Also, the last book tour I did I had an escort at every stop outside New England. Forget GPS - the ultimate travel luxury is an interesting driver who brings you water and snacks!

  29. I won't say I'm a Luddite, but I have no use for a GPS. I don't have one in my vehicle. My husband, on the other hand......I don't think he could survive without a cell phone and a GPS. Saturday he was going to drop me off at Murder By the Book for an author talk and signing. I asked him this favor since parking around there is pretty scarce. We get in the car and he asks if I have the address. No, because I know where we're going. He types in the name of the bookstore. I tell him I can give the directions. We start off. I tell him to go down Shepherd; turn right on Bissonet;the store is on the right after a block or so. He listens to the stupid GPS and mumbles I don't like Shepherd. It's all torn up right now. So he parallels Shepherd for a mile or so while Ms GPS is ordering him to turn at each intersection. Why does he do this if he knows where he's going? Is it a plot to drive me insane?

  30. GPS stories. My late father-in-law loved gadgets. We went on a trip with him from Houston to Marksville, LA, where he was born. He had both a Garmin and a Tom-Tom. They were not in agreement. Garmin would say recalculating, in a very snooty disap-pointed voice. Tom-Tom would get hysterical and scream turn around, turn around.
    Trip-tiks were great, weren't they? I don't know if AAA does them anymore. I love maps. I plot out where we're going and try to ignore the GPS voice. Even when my husband changes the voice to a squirrel, who I cannot understand. The only saving grace of a GPS is it doesn't have trouble reading addresses at night.

  31. I am generally not a Luddite, and I try to be on the watch that I don't become curmudgeonly, but GPS brings out both in me. I hate that feeling of being completely dependent upon it! Instead, I usually look up my destination ahead, familiarize myself with the route using Google Maps, and print out the directions. That way I can reference them to see what my next turn will be, but remain engaged with my surroundings and feel like I am in control of the trip. Where I really DO appreciate the GPS on my phone, though, is when something unexpected occurs, like I get to a planned turnoff and there's a detour,or an accident closes a roadway. Then I'm quite happy to turn to the GPS in my phone for guidance. When on long journeys together my husband usually uses WAZE. I can appreciate the insight it provides, as long as he is the one dealing with it. I just don't want any program yapping at me all the time!

    One of my closest colleagues in my day job is a very intelligent, high-powered 32 year old woman, who has allowed herself to become completely, hopelessly dependent upon GPS. I just can't get over how out of character it seems. In most situations, she is always in charge, on the ball, anticipating next moves. But behind the wheel she is perfectly happy to go wherever the little voice tells her to go, with no context. And if she does find herself lost, she will then call back to the office and get an admin to figure it out for her. It leaves me scratching my head in wonder.

  32. The other night my friend and I were on our way downtown for the last symphony concert in our wonderful Music Hall. There was a sudden standstill in traffic, so I clicked through to the "Traffic Incident" feature on my car's GPS (which it took me nearly a year to find). It told us where the hangup was, and how long of a delay, and by golly, it was pretty accurate. Otherwise, I'd have looked for an alternate route on my own, and we would have probably gotten to the concert late.

    Pat D, a squirrel, really? That sounds hysterical.

  33. Pat D - It seems so silly to use the GPS when I know where I'm going - and yet it's illuminating how it doesn't know the back ways I do an invariably seds me the long way.

    Karen I think my TomTom is too old to have incidents

    Susan, I think there are some people who are literally dyslexic when it comes to directions and maps.

    I wish I had unlimited service on my phone - then I'd use Waze.

  34. I have had the best time laughing at this post today. Hallie--"Having a GPS has elevated taking long cuts to an art." Hank--"And the driver says: Well, GPS says I am at your house!" Lucy--"Are you going to listen to that bitch, or are you going to listen to your wife?" Juia--"Turn onto the street where the Boy's girlfriend used to live" Debs--"No, I'm not getting off in the middle of a ****** cornfield, you maniac!" Rhys and John--Finally I exploded and said "Turn the damned thing off." "She's got to learn," he said. "She's a bloody computer!" I yelled.

    It's only been in the last year that I've really started using the Google Maps on my iPhone, but I love it now. Kaye, I'm with you on the north, south, east, west. Yes, I know the river is north of me, but please just tell me if I turn left or right, preferably before I get right upon the turn. And, of course, I have yelled at my phone navigator when she is a bit slow, and I tell her that I know she needs to recalculate, just do it. I'm looking to buy a new car now, and it will be the first car with the GPS built in with its screen. I'm kind of excited about that, although my friend who takes many road trips seems to still prefer her phone.

  35. OMG, this was a hilarious (and eye-opening) post! Enjoyed everyone's stories. Nope, no GPS-reliance for me. But, if I didn't all ready admire Lucy/Roberta enough in the past, I certainly do now. LOL, Lucy, had to read that one out loud to dh! (And he said, "yep, sounds like you, with less adjectives.") Too funny.

    I see the point, but still love maps and Google ones. Much simpler, for now anyway! ;)

  36. On an East coast vacation a couple of years ago I was so excited to have Google Maps on my iPad and I was very popular with the usual navigator who was accustomed to missing a lot of scenery while fumbling with maps in her lap. All was well until I entered an address and a pretty common city name without specifying the state...we ended up in an old industrial area 2 hours and one state west of our intended destination.
    I like looking at maps in an atlas but I'm not so great at navigating with travel maps turned right, left, and upside down while I try to figure out where I am.
    Recently I tried just asking Siri for directions and kept getting the wrong instructions until I yelled a very specific expletive and Siri responded in his very proper British manner, "Well, I never!" I love my conversations with Siri!

  37. Wendy: you ended up 2 hours and one STATE west! Oh my.
    This is where zip codes come in handy

  38. My GPS is sometimes Athena the Wise and sometimes Iktomi the Trickster. I have to keep an eye on her and usually try to have some idea of where I'm going just in case. I have a very limited sense of direction, so it has helped more often than not. Once a police detour sent me off into a nearby unknown. When I stopped to set the GPS, a woman pulled up next to me and asked if I knew the way out. I said, "No, but in a minute this should," . . . and it did.