In. Two. Point. Nine. Kilometers. Turn right.
Like a new reader, our GPS announces the next turn word by word, with no sense of the whole communication. Choppy until she gets to a set phrase that allows her to string two whole words together without a perceptible pause—Turn right—she speaks with no look-ahead to what is coming next. The result is clear enough to us, but evidently not to her.
Cute but not too bright, she never learns. Living in a new development, we are off the GPS grid—our roads are not yet shown on the downloadable maps, even after four years. Yet no matter how many times we make the same turn into our area, she always thinks we’ve gone off-road.
Do I imagine that slight tinge of panic in her voice? Return to highlighted route.
Do I detect a note of puzzlement a minute later as the position function confirms that, somehow—God knows how!—we are, nonetheless, home again? Arriving at destination.
Attributing human characteristics to non-humans—storms, dogs, teenagers, that sort of thing—has been called anthropomorphism since the 1700s, but I’m thinking the activity itself has been around a wee bit longer. Maybe, even, ever since there have been humans and storms, dogs and teenagers. It’s such a natural way to see the world and everything in it. As for electronic devices designed by humans for interaction with humans, they don’t just invite anthropomorphic reactions, they practically insist on them. As it were.
And so it is that we have come to see our GPS as more than a useful tool: she has become a person (albeit disembodied) who shares our journey. After all, her distinct attributes add up to a discernible person-ality.
Annoyingly precise, she knows the exact distance from our neighbourhood exit to the turn I must take to get to the ring road. In. Three. Point. Six. Kilometres. Turn left.
No sloppy directions phrased as half questions for her: Turn left in, oh, say, I dunno – maybe a little over three kilometres? No siree!
Three. Point. Six. Yes, ma’am.
Yet her precision is softened by something which presents either as endless patience or irrepressible stubbornness, depending on whether you’re truly lost or merely gone rogue. If we deviate from her planned route, she works hard to get us back on the straight and narrow. She never gives up, no siree!
Turn right. Wanting to take another way home on the back roads, we blow past her announced turn.
Recalculating. Is that the sound of gears grinding?
Drive. One. Hundred. Metres. Then. Turn right. We carry on.
Recalculating. Is that steam rising from the unit?
Drive. Two. Hundred. Metres. Then. Turn right. We carry on, wincing a bit.
Recalculating. And so it goes until our preferred route is the only option left to her. Unfailingly polite, at no point does she do what I would, if asked for directions that were then cavalierly—Nay, repeatedly!—ignored.
Fine, do it your way. Call me if you get there. Mutter, mutter.
But if she doesn’t hold a grudge, neither does she acknowledge that our way might, perhaps, have been better in some small way, or even just OK. No, as we get to our intended turn, she simply announces it, inflection free.
In. Fifty. Metres. Turn right.
Her memory is phenomenal. If asked to remember a route, she never forgets it. No unsure waffling for her: Was it here that we turned last time? I don’t remember that gas station. No siree! She’s full of confidence—and although she can’t see ahead to the next word, she knows the next few turns.
In. Point. Two. Kilometres. Turn left. Then turn right.
In a real live girl—say, the one who used to do what passed for navigating in this vehicle—directional intensity would vary inversely with distance to the approaching turn. So it is that we sometimes attribute tone to her communications.
In. One. Kilometre. Turn right. Just a heads-up.
In. Point. Five. Kilometres. Turn right. A gentle reminder.
In. One. Hundred. Metres. Turn right. A pointed reminder.
Turn right! Highly insistent.
For. The love of God. TURN RIGHT!!! A frantic plea.
But to be honest, her tone never varies. No, our navigatrix is coolly rational, with the upside and downside sometimes associated with that trait. Not one to panic, she never shouts. Not one to show appreciation either, she never congratulates us on handling a tricky interchange properly or making our way to a downtown destination in a strange city without mishap. Follow her directions or don’t, as you please. She never takes it personally, nicely satisfying Agreement 2 of the four agreements made famous by Miguel Angel Ruiz.
Indeed, if we could just take her picture, she might serve as the poster girl for Miguel’s book—although with four million in worldwide sales, his book hardly needs a promotional poster. Always saying precisely what she means, she is impeccable with her word, easily keeping Agreement 1; always doing her best, she consistently steps up to Agreement 4. On Agreement 3—not making assumptions—we’ll have to cut her a little slack. She is just a tad close-minded about her choice of route, I find. But hey, three out of four ain’t bad.
And like the new star employee who makes you up your game at work, our GPS has caused me to reflect on mine a bit. Maybe I should achieve a tad more precision, or transform persistence into patience (preferably yesterday). Or maybe I can at least try to remember that in life, as in driving, Plan B can be a necessary part of Arriving at destination. Maybe I can learn to accept diversions with a bit more aplomb. After all, few errors are catastrophic.