Tuesday, February 3, 2015

do you know where you're going to?

What a glorious time to be alive! Cutting-edge technology is rampant among us. We live in an age where the advancements and achievements in science, mechanics, and computers make new discoveries obsolete almost as soon as they are introduced.

While planning vacations over the past few years, Mrs. Pincus and I have noticed how many common tasks have been made obsolete by the advancements in technology. First of all, we no longer require the services of a travel agent, as options are easily accessible and arrangements are easily made and confirmed on the internet. Driving maps to our destinations are no longer required. As long as we know the address — or really just the name — of our destination, the GPS that is built into our cellphone will guide us. It will even figure out how to reroute if we make a wrong turn... all while giving directions in a friendly voice.

Of course, instruments of technology are only as good as the user.

On our recent trip to New Orleans, Mrs. P and I rented a car in order to see areas not readily volunteered by the city's Bureau of Tourism. The desk clerk at the car rental company offered an "add-on" GPS as part of our rental package, which we respectfully declined (along with collision insurance. That's a scam like "undercoating" when you buy a car or "radon testing" when you buy a house). On previous trips, I would print out pages and pages of driving directions, carefully filing them in order of my pre-determined sightseeing schedule. Now, dispensing with the printouts, I merely maintain a list of various points of interest, ready to punch them into the GPS on my phone. (Because she loves to drive, I am like the "navigator" to my wife's "pilot.")

After a few days of tooling around The Big Easy, we got a feel for the lay of the land. While returning from Metairie Cemetery, just north of the touristy French Quarter, we decided we had some time to drive past 1239 First Street, the former residence of author Anne Rice, located in the nearby quiet Garden District neighborhood. I carefully typed the address into the GPS function. Within seconds, calculations began and a route was plotted. I was alarmed when an estimated time of arrival was displayed at five hours and forty minutes. "How could that be?," I thought, "We are no more than fifteen minutes from our hotel and the Garden District is just a few blocks past that." I tried again and the same result appeared. The map displayed on my backlit screen looked correct, although it traced a blue path alongside Interstate 10 instead of instructing us to use the highway. But it still indicated that we would not arrive for another five hours. That was impossible! The day before, we had traveled 140 miles on Route 90 to the Tabasco Factory and that only took two and a half hours. Now, it was showing us that a two-mile drive would take five hours!

I ignored the incessant commands of "turn left in one thousand feet" and "in a quarter-mile, turn right," and just followed the map. We became frustrated when a request to "turn left" would send us the wrong way on a one-way street. How could this system not be up-to-date? These streets didn't become one-way yesterday! Finally, we arrived at our destination and, just as I figured, it had only taken ten minutes from our starting point.

Later in the day, we had the same trouble when trying to find a restaurant I knew was near our Poydras Street hotel. Even after several tries, my GPS repeatedly gave the ETA as three hours. Once again I was puzzled. I turned my phone on and off a few times. I removed the battery and blew on the terminals, hopefully removing some circuit-scrambling dust. But to no avail. I received the same result. The mapping was correct, but the times were off by hours!

Then, the ever-rational Mrs. P offered up a single question. "Do you have it set to driving directions or walking directions?," she asked.

"Huh?," I eloquently replied.

I checked the device. The little "car" icon was "grayed out." Next to it, the little "walking man" icon glowed brightly. I mashed the glass of my phone, selecting "car" and deselecting "walking man" in one motion. Instantly, the time on the map recalculated to three minutes. Three correct minutes.

At the same time, the "user error" light lit up in my brain.

I sheepishly directed my wife to "make a left here." I noticed she was shaking her head.

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