Is GPS Making Us Smarter or Helping Us Get Lost Easier?

Ronald J. Curell

Ron Curell

Today is a guest post written by Ronald J. Curell. Ron is a retired blue collar man, and is a carpenter, father, hardware worker, and grandfather.

Now you’ll have to take a second and remember the days not that long ago when cell phones and GPS didn’t exist.

Imagine it…

“Where is the job at?” I asked into the phone.

“Right on the corner, near the light,” the annoyed voice said, “where are you?”

“On the pay phone at the gas station on that corner,” I responded. This was before cell phones.

“Well turn around and look.”  Across the highway and a little behind the fast food joint, there was the job we were going to.

Or imagine this…

A different summer when we were doing some remolding on Bay City schools, the guy who I was working for said, “Follow me to the job.” After a dozen turns and down this street and that, we arrived at the school. He left and I worked all day. When it was time to go home I realized, “Where in the world was I?”

Or how about this…

A friend who worked construction with me liked to tell the story of how he and a guy would ride together to the jobs. My friend would let this guy use his car so that my friend could sleep.

One day the partner said, “I cannot go to work today you will have to go alone.”

“Sure,” said my friend. “I will need directions.” This was after a couple weeks on the job.

Having worked construction from Mio to Ohio and lots of places in between, I think I have a good grasp on how to get places. I will add that I can take you to the city better than “up north,” but trees do not make good land marks, and if you have seen one you have seen them all. I would rather work in the city with real land marks than up north.

Not long ago I was talking to someone about going places and they have a GPS, which is a direction finding device. You tell it where you want to go and it tells you where to go. I do not have one but I will admit I used one once.

We like to go to Meadowbrook Theater, and for some reason even though I have been there a few times I have trouble finding the place. I can get within sight of the driveway but miss the building every time. In my defense, it has always been at night and there is not a good sign or good lighting.

The first time I ended up at a different building with a similar name. This was after stopping and asking for directions at a gas station that was less than a quarter mile from where I wanted to be!

So this past winter I borrowed my son-in-law’s GPS. It took us down our road to start okay, but then again, I can get to my home town with no problems anyways. But then it commenced to tell us each and every stop and turn. How frustrating! I know how to get within 600 feet of the place where I live, and I would sometimes do a different turn just to hear it say, “You missed your turn–recalculating.”

I keep waiting for the box to say, “You idiot, don’t you know how to follow directions?”

Then when I got almost there at the next corner the female voice said, “Turn left” and wouldn’t you know, that lovely voice was right, it was 500 feet on the left.  Sure enough I drove right to it, no problem.

A different time I was riding with someone and we were looking for a place and I said, “Don’t you have a map in the car?”

“No,” was the answer, and a funny questioning look was his expression.

Now I always have and still do have a folded-up map of our state in my truck (that, children, is what we used to use back in the day). When I first started construction I would have it folded to show our part of the state and tried to work only in the area that was displayed.  When the boss said you have to go to a place that required unfolding it, I would say, “Can’t, don’t know how to find it.” He would say a city off the map, “Romulus,” and I would say, “No, that is Ron-less.” Or he would say a different off-map city, “Go to Novi,” and I would say, “That is NO-I.”

Needless to say, that didn’t last long, and soon it was unfolded and I was working from Ohio to Mio. And that included Indiana and the U.P. for that matter.

Talking to the friend about the GPS, he said that it will ask for the county you are going to. My buddy admitted that he didn’t always know the county. He went right on to say that you had to make sure you had the right state programmed in the device or it might say, “You’re lost.”

This got me to thinking, “Do I know all 83 Michigan counties? No.” Now my mother could recite all of them, she would start down on the left side of the state and go Berrien, Cass, Joseph, Branch and so forth. I would have to unfold my map to get those names. I can name maybe a third of the counties.

So that’s my question to you: Are electronic devices making us smarter or just helping us get lost easier?


Is GPS Making Us Smarter or Helping Us Get Lost Easier? — 7 Comments

  1. When I replaced my 2005 cell phone last month, they tried to get me to purchase a smart phone. “I’m not smart enough for a smart phone,” I told the young man at the counter. “I don’t text or any of that stuff. I just want a phone to make and receive phone calls.” While I understand the ‘potential’ benefits of this grand age of whatever-you-want-to-call-it, I have my reservations. Case in point: Facebook. Because I write books, I’m told that I need to use Facebook, so I do. The fact is, however, I think Facebook is the most intrusive thing I’ve ever been in contact with. Why do all of these people think their personal lives are my business, much less important to me? I’ll take the pay phone. Yeh, yeh… I write a pair of websites, too, but I’d trade them both for the less intrusive times of my youth.
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  2. GPS and I don’t usually get along. I’d still rather have a paper map at hand because more than once I’ve been left hanging by it.

    There was the time I was in the mountains above Santa Clara and my ex-husband co-pilot had to say that he’d lost the signal and couldn’t give me directions. If I had a paper map, I wouldn’t have been so worried. As it was, I managed to drive past a local highway I remember seeing on a map I’d looked at the day before and followed that back to town. (Yeah, the ex insisted that we didn’t need the map with us in the car. Right.)

    There there was the time I was with a bunch of friends and we were driving in the country on our way to remote specialty store. One friend insisted that we didn’t need to look at the map book in my car because she had GPS on her phone. Everything was fine until we ran into a construction project that had closed down the road we were on. I asked friend if she could get an alternate route for us. She asked for the closest street address so she could punch that in. “Umm…we’re surrounded by corn fields here; how are we supposed to find an address?” I found a place to safely pull over and plotted a course using the map book before she could figure anything out with her stupid “smart phone”

    When I’m going somewhere new I always look up the directions, verify them with my knowledge of the area as much as possible, and possibly even print out the directions to have them at hand. And I do own a smart phone with maps/navigation, as well as have a navigation screen built into my car. Yeah, GPS and I are not friends.
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  3. LOL! Nice post.

    IMHO these things dumb us down something awful….though I have to admit, they come in handy if you’re in one of those housing tract where the developer used spaghetti to map out the streets. By and large, though, when you become dependent on a robot voice to tell you which way to turn, you lose your native ability to navigate the landscape.

    My city is mostly laid out on a grid, so it’s hard to get lost if you can tell north from south. Some folks truly can’t, so I guess the gadget is a big help for people with that disability.

    Sometimes a GPS will give you wrong instructions. Twice I’ve been with friends whose gadgets told them to turn in one direction when we really needed to go in the other. The hilarious thing is, if you tell the person the Voice is sending them on a wrong turn, they’ll ignore you. Then they end up driving half a mile or more(!!) before they figure out you were right and the machine was wrong. 😀

    “Recalculating…make a U-turn here!”
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  5. GPS helps a lot of the time but it isn’t fool proof. I tried to use it to get on the highway once and it went on a total round about way. I would have been better off just looking for street signs. Whenever I’m traveling to a remote area I always like to take screenshots of a the GPS map near the destination just in case I can’t get a signal and the GPS stops working.
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  6. ok, since this is the Blue Collar Workman blog, I would argue that GPS is a tool. With an understanding of its capabilities (and maybe more importantly its limitations) it can be a very valuable tool.

    And just like any tool, there are dozens of different brands and versions of the “same thing” with different features, abilities, and complexities.

    I’m thinking of the carpet removal post from the other day. Is a powered floor scraper better than strong hands? Strong hands and experience got the job done, but a powered floor scraper sure would have made the job much easier! Or would it? The wrong user could probably cut their foot off and tear the walls down with a powered floor scraper.

    Like so many things in life, the right tools in the right hands can do amazing things. The wrong tool and/or inexperience often leads to frustration or disaster!

    My vote. GPS = Yes. !!!

  7. You could take my grandfather blindfolded to any part of NJ and when you took the blindfold off, he would know at least 6 routes back home.

    The most frustrating thing for me about GPS is when it wants to insist on you taking highways, when back roads can be more direct. Last week, I had to drive to Boulder for work. Boulder is southwest of me. I had driven the route before last season but I was rusty. The GPS kept trying to send me east to the interstate. That would have taken me 10 miles out of the way and would have had me traveling at right angles instead of a diagonal that I knew existed.
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