Monday, July 11, 2011

Speaking of GPSes ...

As technology advances, the life span of a species, from invention to obsolescence, gets shorter. The species known as GPS is already facing extinction, since most smartphones can now perform the same functions, and are cheaper. In fact, the smartphone is a kind of Swiss Army Knife of techno-toys. I'm in the process of switching to phone-based navigation, as my once beloved GPS is showing distinct signs of dementia.

I jumped on the GPS bandwagon whole-heartedly. One of my completely irrational fears is of being lost while driving in a strange city (and I consider my hometown pretty strange.) I think the clinical name is wherethehellamiphobia. I have a severe case. I loved the idea of a gentle guiding voice giving me step-by-step, turn-by-turn directions, each one just as I need it. Even on familiar roads, I thought, the infallible companion would be soothing and reassuring.

Of course, the reality was somewhat different. For one thing, the American English voice was actually Dominatrix. "You will turn right in 500 feet, and you will like it." And then there's the surly way Dominatrix would respond if I dared to disobey her instructions. She'd hiss "Recalculating..." through clenched silicon chips, with scarcely concealed contempt.

I got used to Dominatrix's quirks, but I don't think she ever adjusted to mine. She started to show signs of mental breakdown. Once, right in the middle of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, I heard her venomous "Recalculating..." How could we change routes in the middle of a bridge? I glanced at the screen, and saw just the car icon, surrounded by blue as if hovering in the air somewhere over New York Harbor. I think it was the first sign of her latent homicidal tendencies.

Later, she stopped speaking to me altogether. I could still follow the maps, but got only scornful silence from her. Finally, even the maps stopped displaying.

I didn't want it to end this way. I thought perhaps we could remain friends. But I think Dominatrix sensed that the smartphone was getting more of my attention. I suppose it's natural for each generation of technology to be jealous of the next. Already my iPod Touch is deleting my unread email messages from Apple.

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