Sunday, March 11, 2007

My Love-Hate Relationship with My GPS

You know that TV commercial where the driver is so engrossed in following the directions of his GPS navigation device that he drives his car through a storefront window? Trust me; I’ve never actually done that. But in the few months that I’ve owned a Global Positioning System navigator, I’ve sort of developed a love-hate relationship with it.

My first one actually came with my cell phone. But there was a monthly fee associated with it and the screen was small. Also, if you wanted to use the mapping feature, it also would cost air time.

So I bought one of the dedicated models that sticks to the windshield of my car. Being totally enamored with anything technological, I was enthralled by its capabilities. But my daughter asked me if I really needed one of those gadgets since I don’t do a lot of traveling.

I told her no, I didn’t need it. But then most people who own one don’t need it, anymore than they need a high-definition television, a cell phone with a built-in mp3 player or a little robotic vacuum cleaner that cleans the floor and then automatically returns to its charger when it’s finished. Hey, it beats a broom, hands down.

It’s not about need. It’s about convenience, desire, and the coolness factor.

But getting back to my GPS device, it didn’t take me long to notice that it didn’t come with very many points of interest, a.k.a. places of business, built in. I couldn’t even find any movie theaters. So I returned it and traded up to one that claimed the industry standard for points of interest, about six million.

Granted, it does seem to list most places of business I’ve entered, but certainly not all. Its database seems to be about two years out of date.

In fact, on a recent trip down to Columbus from my home in Indianapolis where the family was gathering to celebrate all the birthdays this month, I wanted to enter my destination, not because I didn’t know where it was, but because I wanted to find out my ETA. I wondered if I had enough time to stop off and buy some birthday cards.

Unfortunately, the Golden Corral in Columbus was not listed. It promptly showed me the way to the one in Greensburg and Bloomington, but not to the Columbus destination. So I decided to trick it by entering a nearby business. I entered Lowe’s, Wal-Mart, and the movie theaters. None were listed. It was as though Columbus didn’t even exist.

Then, on my way back, I was just playing with it to see if it could find my brother’s house in Edinburgh because I wanted to stop by. It did find it and proceeded to give me directions. But it was taking me way off the beaten path. I decided to ignore its advice and go the way I knew was best.

That’s the thing with GPS navigators; they will get you to where you want to go almost every time. But sometimes they take you through the back streets to get there. It’s great if you really don’t know the way, but if you do, it’s annoying.

You might ask, if I know the way, why bother with the GPS. And you would be correct in asking that question. The two answers I can come up with are that sometimes I just want to see how well it works. The second is that it does give you an estimated time of arrival, if you’re concerned about the possibility of being late.

Anyway, I was glad I had one last summer during my vacation trip. And I’m looking forward to putting it through the paces this summer to another, as-yet-to-be-determined destination.

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