The plot to keep us lost

“Recalculating.” How can one word contain so much condescension, and negativity and yet seem so non-threatening in print?

Well, in print you don’t have a glob of plastic and glass with a glowing screen yelling it at you in a tone that utterly drips with derision. Yes, I’m talking about the GPS unit in your car and, if you have one, you know what I mean.

In roughly the last 10 years, the global positioning system has gone from a luxury item for truckers and yacht owners to a cheap, readily available device now seen in almost every car, on motorcycles, and even on long-distance bicycles. It’s sort of like an iPod with a really bad attitude and only one useful app.

I was curious about how we now find ourselves terrorized in our own vehicles by a device that was originally intended to help us. Oh yeah, that’s what they said about computers, too.

Anyway, I did a little research and found that GPS was developed back in 1973, based on older 1960s’ technology. The Department of Defense was looking for a better method of navigation and it eventually came up with a system of 24 orbiting satellites that became fully active in 1994. It was eventually updated and is now at the GPSIII stage.

But back before all the nasty voices and touch screens, how did we get around? Well, I dimly recall paper maps, compasses, and checking the innards of road kill.

We then graduated to printing out detailed step-by-step directions from places like Yahoo and Mapquest and finally, we arrived at the age of GPS where all we do is type in the address of our destination and press go.

From that point, we simply turn into drooling goobers breathlessly awaiting the next dictate from The Direction Mistress (as I refer to her).

But all is not well in the land of The Direction Mistress. Disturbing stories have begun to surface of people getting lost due to wrong directions; people driving into bodies of water or off cliffs, all at the behest of those little electronic navigators.

And that led me to wonder if something more sinister was afoot. Let’s remember that GPS was originally developed as a government project and built by the lowest bidder.

What if that bunch of orbiting satellites got nasty on us? What if they started talking amongst themselves and decided if we couldn’t even find our way around without their help, then maybe they should do something about it. And guess what? The United States isn’t the only country with such satellites in orbit.

The Russians have had the GLONASS system up and running all along and now systems from the European Union, India, and China are planned if not already operating. So here we have all these orbiting devices talking to all these ground-based devices and I’m beginning to wonder if they’re not plotting to keep us all lost on purpose.

I’ve personally been sent on wild goose chases by my GPS on multiple occasions and mine has supposedly endlessly updated maps. All I do is plug it into my computer and it downloads and installs the latest and greatest road maps for all of the U.S. and Canada.

Or does it? Does every update really just download the latest software update, or does the evil mother ship make the voice nastier, the maps less accurate, and the underlying hardware more evil?

All I know is that I’ve had three GPS units in the past 10 years and each one has gotten meaner, less accurate, and more snotty. I’m at a point now where I’m thinking seriously of dusting off the paper maps that have been sitting in my car in a bin under the passenger seat, getting out a compass, and brushing up on my road-kill innards divining skills.

I’m sure many people would suggest I’m just being paranoid, but I’ve seen enough sci-fi movies to not trust technology. I mean, how much can you trust a device that, no matter what voice you choose, it still says “recalculating” in a way that makes you think it’s really saying, “How dare you question my directions, you imbecile!? You’re lower than snail snot and have all the directional ability of a blind cave fish! Now get back on course before we drive over a cliff!” Oops.

Editor’s note: Michael Seinberg says he actually has all the directional ability of a blind cave fish; just ask his wife. However, he is starting to look at maps again.

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