I love technology. I always have and I imagine I always will. (Unless I turn into some kind of a luddite when I get old or something.) As I’ve fallen in love with more and more tech I’ve seen lots of old familiar things being replaced. My collection of wax cylinders by gramophone disks by reels by LPs by cassettes by CDs by MP3s.
Somehow I thought *I* would be immune to being replaced by technology. A smart strapping man like me – what could go wrong? What on earth could appear and make me redundant? Three annoying little letters – GPS.
I’ve always been proud of my sense of location and direction. Most of the time I know which way I’m facing and it’s nearly impossible for me to get lost. I was once in Singapore with a colleague who lived there. We left the office for lunch and as we headed back I was certain we were going the wrong way. He laughed and raised an eyebrow and told me he’d lived there for most of his life and of course knew where he was going.
Until a few minutes later when he realized he’d been mistaken and I was correct.
It’s always been my favorite secret super power. If I’ve been someplace once – even if I was just a passenger at night – I can find my way back. I could amaze people with this skill on a regular basis.
Now, thanks to GPS, this ability is old hat. My differentiator is no more. I am just another face in the crowd when it comes to getting from point A to point B and I’m not happy about it. This isn’t to say that I don’t use and value GPS – it comes in really handy when getting to a place for the first time of for checking a hunch. It’s also very helpful when it comes to geocaching.
But now that GPS in on pretty much every device under the sun I feel like a manual typewriter – a curiosity that serves no real purpose.
Snurk . . .
Conceptually, I am a big fan of Waze – a social application that provides free GPS/directional functionality based on user input and driving patterns/behavior. Lots of the time it works like a charm – especially in providing real-time updates for road and traffic conditions. Often when I’m using it and sitting in traffic it will ask if I’m stuck in traffic, giving me a “yes” or “no” choice to update other drivers. It’s pretty cool.
What isn’t so cool are the crazy routes it provides. The other day I was on my way to a party about 20 miles from my home. I put the address into Google Maps and was told it would take about 30 minutes to get there. As I drove I realized that in the dark and pouring rain there was no way I was going to be able to read the directions. Instead, I pulled over and entered the address into Waze on my iPhone. I had to try twice – the first time it wasn’t able to come up with a route. Soon it did though and I was off.
I drove past the turn that Google had suggested – instead following the Waze directions. While I was skeptical I was willing to go with the flow. That was a mistake. All GPS systems tell you it’s got a margin of error or that if should be used for informational purposes only or some other disclaimer. I accept that. But Waze needs to do a much better job.
Several times the verbal turn-by-turn directions would instruct me to make a turn only to have the map start beeping at me that I had gone off the route. On other occasions the map showed me being on the route – but once again I’d get the beep and warning that I was off-route. What? Many, many times the route had me making giant loops when direct ones were available. And often when I intersected the route the system gave no indication I was back on track.
In the end, the trip took me well over an hour – pretty much exclusively due to the poor performance of Waze. Long meandering detours, incorrect alerts that I was off route, crazy recalculations were all part of the night’s drive.
Getting home – on the other hand – was a snap. The host was able to give me directions that involved only four turns . . .
I’m totally giving Waze the benefit of the doubt. As they say, the system will only improve as more people participate. But there are problems (incorrect off-route alerts, map and turn-by-turn out of sync) that aren’t due to the number of participants and until those get cleaned up it’s going to be difficult for people to use this system.