Saturday, December 10, 2011

Over the River and Through the Woods...

Recently some friends were visiting us from out of town. The evening wore on and it was getting late; they had about a two hour drive ahead of them if they were to make it home by midnight. A couple of days later they called to thank us for the lovely evening and relate how their late evening drive home ended up being a 4-hour ordeal.

When my wife and I head north to Portland, we generally make the 12 mile jaunt over to the Interstate then cruise the remainder of the trip North at freeway speeds. But this is not the most direct route to Portland: Highway 99 is the old highway.

From our house, our friends had programmed their GPS to home and simply followed the device’s directions. Calculating the most “direct” route, it took them off the old highway, routing them along rural county roads until they reached the banks of the Willamette River. However, there was no bridge across the Willamette at this point on the route!

The GPS program didn’t know that the point where that little yellow line transverses the Willamette is actually the Buena Vista ferry; a small car ferry that stops operating at 7:00 PM. Our friends had to back-track on windy rural country roads to make their way to secondary roads which would eventually lead them home.

This isn’t the first time people have been led astray by errant GPS systems. In 2009 an Oregon couple on their way to Reno was directed up a remote Forest Service road by their GPS; it looked like the shortest route. They spent three days stranded in the snow before being rescued. These are not isolated incidents; there are countless stories of drivers being led astray by blindly depending on their onboard navigation systems. They may calculate the most “direct” route, but that may not necessarily be the quickest or most efficient route.

If I use Google Maps, for example, to direct me to the beach about an hour west of our location, the directions have me taking a circuitous route of twisty rural back roads before connecting into main route to the coast. But I know that if I drive three miles out of my way to the main highway, I can make it to my destination more quickly and comfortably.

I prefer to depend on maps. But even maps can lead one astray. I’ve seen bright yellow printed lines on a map that, in reality, don’t go where they indicate they do. Still maps give an overall perspective of starting point and destination. This allows you to strategize your trip rather than rely on simple “turn here” directions. Frankly, I like to see the the big picture, and I like to know roughly where I am at any point during a trip.

I appreciate that some people like not having to have to pull over and consult a map; and perhaps having that reassuring voice confidently directing them on their journey is comforting. But I probably won’t get a GPS anytime soon. Besides, I'm sure it would just keep asking: “Are we there yet?”

I love this Allstate Insurance ad:



21 comments:

DJan said...

I was visiting my sister and she wanted to show me how well the GPS system she recently purchased worked. We turned it on, and it told us to go the exact wrong direction we wanted to go. It mysteriously led us all over the place. That was enough to make me decide it wasn't worth the expense. ;-)

Rain said...

We don't use GPS but it always sounds handy. I have heard the same stories about it's less perfect aspects. Where my husband works, when people try to find it by GPS, it misdirects them to a different building. Like you say maps can be unreliable if one is heading into the high country and we always try to ask locals for what they know. That is definitely the best resource-- although best to ask more than one in case the first has a sense of humor :) We asked two (waitress and turkey hunters) about a dirt road we wanted to take through central Arizona's backcountry. the waitress said it didn't go through because snow still on the high point. The hunters didn't recommend it but said it went through but a really rough road. We had 4-wheel drive, good weather and time to do what we pleased. It went through, gorgeous scenery, and was a rough road. If you are lucky enough to have some to ask, hunters often know the best.

Robert the Skeptic said...

DJan I am sure the technology will eventually get better. But a map gives you the big picture, giving you "options" in many cases.

Rain There's a short road I took like that once, back behind Crane Prairie on the Cascade Lakes highway behind Bend and Mt. Bachelor. It was a "short cut" to Waldo Lake, only a couple of miles on the map, but tt took forever crawling along on this pot-holed road. Asking the locals or hunters is a good plan, they usually know conditions from firs-hand experience.

Kay Dennison said...

Ain't technology grand? I prefer the byways. The trucks on the Ohio Turnpike and the Interstate try to eat my lil' red car and give me the willies. I don't have GPS and this makes me glad. I don't trust any of the online stuff either. An old-fashioned road map works pretty good for me.

Paul said...

Isn't modern technology wonderful Robert ? How did Jim Bridger and Kit Carson do without it ?

Rubye Jack said...

Call me old fashioned, but I see no need for a GPS. Like you, I like the overall big picture a map gives and the idea of a thing talking to me in my car is kind of creepy. Just me.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Kay Major highways, particularly the closer you get to major metropolitan areas, can be pretty intimidating.

Paul That still amazes me to this day; no maps, maybe a compass... all the time we hear about hikers getting lost and having to send search and rescue out to find them. Yeah, McLoughlin, Pike, Coronado, the list goes on. Of course history doesn't record the guys who trekked out into the wilderness and were never heard from again. But indeed, truly amazing.

Rubye Indeed, it's all very interesting but I don't trust the technology either.

Tommykey said...

I still rely on a road map and the GPS in my head. :-)

Jerry said...

I have a GPS that I only use to visit my daughter, and even then, I don't need it except for the bizarre twists and turns it takes to get to her house. Well, I use it up to a point - it says her house is three houses further down the street!

Robert the Skeptic said...

Tommykey I've noticed that when I go by car to someplace I've never been before, I am more likely to remember how to get there again if I am the driver rather than if I am the passenger. There obviously are more neural connections being made than if I am in a passive mode, just along for the ride.

Jerry Back when I was repo-ing cars, I had a "taxi cab map" of Portland. Rather than a traditional map, it was simply a list of all the "named" N-S streets with their street numbers in hundreds. The E-W streets in Portland are all numbered streets. All the major 'through' streets on the list were in bold. It worked really well and was much easier navigating in a city's "grid" layout. Out of town, though, a standard map was required.

Jono said...

I like a map, compass, and a good sense of direction, but I absolutely Will Not put my faith in the latest technology to tell me where to go. That's what my wife is for, anyway.

billy pilgrim said...

google maps is amazing. my wife is going to several asian countries in the new year and we've been able to check out all the routes and amenities. i guess she'll find out just how accurate google maps is whilst i watch deadwood from the bat cave.

History Doc said...

I love those Allstate ads!

There have been several studies lately about brain activity changes in cabbies--relying on GPS has changed the way they think and work.

That said, I love being able to whip out my iPhone and route myself around problem areas or find my way home from a remote location. You just can't rely on it exclusively.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Jono Speaking of wives brings up an interesting distinction between men's and women's brains. Giving directions men will say: "Drive North two blocks then turn east and go three blocks". Women on the other hand use landmarks, such as: "Go until you see the post office then turn left, it's across from the bakery".

Billy Hope she hires a local guide when abroad. I was surprised that road signs in Japan were in both Japanese and English.

Doc I would think that it takes coordination between more different areas of the brain to conceptualize the terrain, compute the best route and visualize your current location than it would be to passively listen to driving directions by rote.

This weekend I noticed twice telling my son I was going to meet him at a restaurant. I notice he NEEDS the actual address or he cannot find it in his device. Just saying it's at the Albertsons shopping center is no loner sufficient.

Sightings said...

I'm with you. I prefer to get lost on my own rather than have the GPS do it for me. But we're dinosaurs. My 20-something kids wouldn't know a map if it hit them in the face; they only know how to program the machine.

secret agent woman said...

For someone directionally impaired like me, GPS is wonderful. But you have to use your brain, too - sometimes you know it is not quite accurate and you adjust accordingly.

Did you ever see the Office episode where Michael blindly follows the GPS. That scene: http://youtu.be/BIakZtDmMgo

Robert the Skeptic said...

Sightings You make a good point, would a map really be decipherable to a young person today?

SecretAgent Turn Right.. HERE! Yeah, we are big "Office" fans, though I greatly perfer the British version With Ricky Gervais.

Dawn @Lighten Up! said...

Totally agree - not buying a GPS. I have an app on my phone that does the same thing, anyway I use Mapquest and Google maps, which have both led me astray, haha. Glad your friends are OK!

barbfroman said...

I've changed the voice on my GPS to a British guy, (I'm hoping it's Daniel Gray) instead of that snotty menopausal woman who once told me to find a place to do a U turn. I'm very happy with my car compass and map, thank you.

Antares Cryptos said...

I've been sent repeatedly into various buildings.

Going retro with map, compass and bladder stops.

Like the Ad.

Robert the Skeptic said...

Dawn It's been a rare occasion in deed when a paper map has been incorrect.

Barb That would be cool to be able to change the voice. But if you could also change the language you could learn a whole new language while driving your car!

Cryptos Bladder stops.. yes, knowing where the rest stops along the way are is critical. I don't think GPS provides that useful trickle of information.