Better Technology, Through Stupidity

My smartphone is making me dumber.

by Cherri Ellis

Smartphone GPS

I think there is no bigger danger to world society than the Global Positioning System (GPS) and it’s evil twin MapQuest. Like the little girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead, when they are good they are very, very good, and when they are bad they are horrid.

Years ago, before my money and my daughter lived on campus, I went with a friend of mine to an Alabama football game. The radio station she worked at had rented a fraternity house stuffed with food and drink about six inches from the stadium.

When I arrived at Jan’s house to drop my car, her husband was programming her new GPS. It’s a TomTom, he explained. It was virtually impossible to go astray.

Off we went, two women who cared not a whit about that day’s game, but were happily chattering about which local restaurant would be catering the BBQ, and how only with BBQ was it okay to have only starches as side dishes. Suddenly a male voice blared out of the dashboard that we were to prepare to exit in point whatever miles.

The sudden addition of a man’s voice to an atmosphere that had included only two women for the last hour was startling. Jan swerved into the left lane, and I screamed like I had found an assassin in the back seat.  For the next mile, our driving was further impaired by our cackling laughter at what dorks we were for being so surprised.

The only problem was Jan sort of fell into an obedient stupor with the dashboard voice, forgetting that he could not see roadblocks or pedestrians. More than once I found myself screaming over his calm recorded voice, saying things like: ìNo, Jan, it is an orange barrel and that is a policeman. And you cannot turn left here just because the GPS said so. Oh, my God, you almost killed the girl in the cutoffs. Go straight! Go straight! Go straight!î

On the way home, I decided that if a disembodied voice was going to talk to me in the car, I needed him to tell me to turn the music down so we could hear the side of Jan’s van scraping the guard rail. Or let me know where the cap to my lipstick had rolled off to when she punched the brakes.

Mapquest is less offensive, because you find the directions yourself beforehand so you feel as though it’s something you decided on your own. It’s less bossy, but the potential for human error is staggering.

Take, for instance, the time I MapQuested the church at which my family and I were to attend a friend’s very formal wedding. I don’t know what I typed in, but the directions took us so far off course that eventually the pavement just crumbled to a halt between two buildings that clearly housed criminals.

By this point, the simmering resentment in the car had hit a rolling boil, and our daughter in the back seat switched allegiance between us at whim just to watch it escalate.

My husband threw it in reverse and rocketed to where he had claimed the church was all along, while I stared bewildered at my printed out MapQuest directions. By the time we arrived it had started to rain, and we knew we were late because the parking lot was packed. We bolted toward the nearest set of doors and pulled them open against the weather.

As we finally got them shut behind us, it became immediately apparent that something was very wrong. We had entered the wrong end of the church. The ceremony had started, and we were standing at the altar with the priest and bride and groom. Everyone froze and stared at the priest, who finally said, ìLet them pass, then lock the door.î

We awkwardly ducked between the couple, trying to not step on the edge of her gown, and shot down the aisle looking for available space in a pew.  I think we even did that weird half- crouched run, as if that made us less conspicuous to a church full of people who were doing nothing but watching us.

That was 2005, and the groom, Alex, has since become an extremely successful attorney. My 19-year-old daughter worked this summer in his office, and so apparently he didn’t hold his wedding disruption against us.

But he could have, and therein lies the danger of GPS and MapQuest. Nobody needs to know anything anymore; they just need to have a smart phone. What is to stop some global enemy from hacking in to MapQuest and just driving everyone off the edge of a cliff? Half of us would be plummeting to our death saying, ìNo, this isn’t right. Did we pass the Exxon station?î

I have OnStar, and so whenever I lock my keys in the car I just call them and no matter where I am on the planet they unlock the door for me over the airwaves. One second you’re talking to someone with a pleasant accent, and click. You’re back in. Magic.

So my smartphone is making me dumber, but who cares? Eventually I will only need to know two things: when to charge my phone and where I left it

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