I’ve been to the state of Louisiana all of four times in my life, the latest being last week for a conference and to help some folks still dealing with flood damage suffered way back in August of last year.
The previous couple of trips, I flew — once into New Orleans and once into Shreveport. This time, though, I drove about seven hours with a younger co-worker to the city of Hammond. While the GPS did a good job of getting us through Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, it always seems to get a little confused in Louisiana.
It doesn’t get real confused, just a little. The GPS lady would tell us to turn about a tenth of a mile too late or would say “you have arrived at your destination” when there was nothing but trees. I’m willing to help humans repair flood damage, but squirrels are on their own.
The GPS is awfully handy, but I can adjust when it’s a little off. However, the co-worker who is about 15 years younger than me probably never developed those kinds of natural navigational skills. If I hadn’t been there, he might still be knee-deep in a swamp wrestling some gator and screaming, “She said to turn left! Get out of my destination!”
I honed my skills through the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s when folks still had those massive paper maps that you could unfold, spread across the dashboard and then wad up into a disheveled mess because they were impossible to re-fold. Rich folks, meanwhile, had fancy bound atlases through which they could easily flip from page to page.
In the 1970s, I was my family’s atlas as my dad would pull into some gas station on our vacations and send me in to ask for directions to our motel, which usually had some name like the Dead Squid Smell Inn.
“Dad, he said to go straight for 8 miles, then take a left, another left, two rights and a left where Old Man Patrick’s farm used to be. He said if you get lost, just roll down the window and follow the odor.”
Later, when I began my newspaper career as a 19-year-old sportswriter, I could have used a GPS. I was sent to cover baseball, basketball and football games in every city and podunk town in Georgia. Getting to those small-town fields and stadiums generally required some combination of torn maps, payphones and looking for stadium lights. Maybe a little bit of prayer, too, when I found myself on a dead-end road.
I worry that we’ve become way too reliant on technology to get us where we’re going these days. Young folks today can’t identify most nations on a map — or even point out most states — unless their name is Dora the Explorer, who just got deported.
What would Christopher Columbus think of folks who have to pull to the side of the road while their GPS recalculates? He’d probably think the same thing he thought of folks more than 500 years ago — they’re barely worth enslaving or infecting with a European disease.
I guess I should be thankful that we’re at least still driving our own cars even if we’re trusting a phone to tell us where we’re going. In a few years, we may all be sitting in the backseat of our self-driving cars asking, “Are we there yet?”
To which our exasperated Hondas will respond, “Don’t make me stop this car and relcalculate!”
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