The Michael Scotts of the Roads
Jennifer E. Miller
I watched an old episode of The Office the other night. The comedy was cancelled several years ago, but it remains one of the only shows I never missed an episode. Every Thursday, Dwight, Michael, Jim, Pam, and the rest of the crew, sensationalized their otherwise mundane ordinary office life with pranks, jokes, and even stupidity.
In one episode, Michael Scott, the not-so-smart Regional Office Manager, follows his GPS directions too literally. While driving on a back road, the GPS instructed "turn right." Dwight, his loyal Assistant Regional Manager, points out that the road simply curves, and the device means bear right. Michael disagrees, puts his trust in the GPS, and leads his car straight down a shallow embankment into the lake. Luckily, Dwight escapes the sinking car and, in his typical, showy dramatic fashion, swims to the opposite side to rescue Michael. Michael insists someone put a lake in the way of his GPS instructions; Dwight points out that it's necessary to anticipate errors. Hanging in the air was the question: how reliant we have become to electronic devices for directions? How many Michael Scotts are driving around?
In terms of convenience, it's no secret technology has taken over our lives. Why carry around a map or atlas, when we expect our handheld pocket computers to be available on a whim? We no longer plan ahead to get an idea of a road's windiness or how far off the main highway we will travel (God forbid we lose cell reception!). With a GPS's turn by turn directions, we have become so reliant on a voice giving us instructions, that we have forgotten how to provide it ourselves.
Recently, a local beach was in the news because a car drove down the boat ramp, drowning the driver. According to this article, there have been eleven car vs boat ramp deaths at this location since 1995, which sparked safety improvements in 2007. Shouldn't the GPS cartographers have fixed this issue by now? As it turns out, each instance involved alcohol, which may explain why someone wouldn't notice they were driving passed the warning signs toward the water.
Obviously, in the unfortunate local deaths, intoxication was a huge factor. Alcohol affects our ability to think critically and react appropriately. However, the article didn't mention if the driver(s) were familiar with the roads in that area. With today's WIFI and cellphone obsession, is it that far-fetched to imagine a sober driver plugging an address into their GPS, which then incorrectly instructs them to "turn right" when it meant "bear right," leading the clueless person off road? Take a look at the disasters this article discusses (it even brings up The Office episode I mentioned.) Could the scenarios have been prevented if drivers examined their route and had an idea ahead of time where they were going and any possible obstacles?
On a girls trip to the Oregon Coast with my mother, sister, and daughter this summer, I used my car's in-board navigation system. I plugged in our hotel's address; in case we took a wrong exit or whatever. My sister drove as we passed through Portland and on toward the coast. The GPS said to take such-and-such an exit, but road signs indicated a different one. Confusion is rampant. Which one to take? I finally said follow the road signs because we just got through construction and who knows if there will be more on the GPS's original route. My sister checks her smartphone's map for confirmation that my proposed alternate route will take us to our hotel in a timely fashion (mind you, while passing numerous warning signs of a $500 fine for cell phone use while driving.) We made it to our hotel just fine and luckily didn't drive ourselves into the Pacific Ocean. But a quick look at an Oregon State map, and knowing which towns to expect along our route, would've been helpful.
More or less, GPS is simply basic guidance to steer us to our destination. We recognize when our device is wrong, but we all make the occasional mistake. When suffering an embarrassing snafus, it may become subject of a television show script. Now, off to watch more reruns...