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My friend recently purchased a GPS, a clever and useful tool to be sure for anyone who is confused about where they are or how to get someplace they want to go. It's like one of those tools that they used in Star Trek back in the day that seemed so incredibly fantastic that someone decided to actually invent one. I read an interview with the guy who developed the first cell phone who said that he got the idea for it while home with the flu watching reruns of Star Trek. It's one thing to see something in science fiction and think that it is really cool and another altogether to be able to actually figure out how to build one and make it work. If you think about it, all sorts of Treky things have actually made their way into reality like the cell phone and GPS. Back in the day the crew of the Enterprise did a lot of scanning and detecting of things using sensors. Captain Kirk would tell some crew member to scan a ship or planet and the crewman would report, “Sensors indicate all propulsion systems are down,” or “Sensors indicate four life signs, Sir”. Sensors were always indicating something and today, they pretty much do just that. Our cars have sensors, our electronics have sensors, stores have scanners, metal detectors have scanners...every time you turn around you are sensing and scanning or being sensed or scanned by one thing or another. Remember how the crew of the Enterprise used to walk around with thin devices about the size of a sheet of paper by means of which they could access all kinds of information? Those were Ipads before there were Ipads. It is all rather deja vu-y if you think about it.
Personally, I love all these wonderful gadgets that we used to pretend we had when we were playing as children that have since come to exist in reality. Some of them are just so cool that they make you feel the way you did when you were a kid and saw some totally fantastic toy that blew your mind. You know, the one that really annoyed your parents and other grown ups. And that, in a nutshell, is the one problem with all these clever and cool devices – they can be incredibly annoying and intrusive to everyone around you.
People's cell phones don't just twitter politely like the old communicators on Star Trek, they blast unpleasant music, make bizarrely disgusting noises, and scream like demented banshees. Sometimes I call people and the phone doesn't ring; it plays some song that I would rather chew glass than listen to given a choice. Let's face it, we are all being scanned constantly whether we want to be or not, and sensors in cars go haywire on a regular basis, usually involving the output of obscene amounts of money. And then there is the GPS.
Bless the thing, it really is a useful tool. Unfortunately, it can also be phenomenally annoying. My friend and I decided to go hiking in a new location and she brought along her GPS to guide us there. First of all, it demanded an address, which is tricky because we couldn't find one beyond a vague description of where it was located so we did the best we could. It seemed to think that it knew where to go, so we took off, confident that the intelligent gadget would not lead us astray. It established a route, which knew would take us in the direction we wanted to go but seemed silly to me since it dragged us through a bunch of traffic lights that could easily have been avoided. When my friend decided to take a slight detour so we could get some sandwiches to take with us the GPS seemed to get just a little annoyed with us. Every time we deviated from the path it would tell us that it was “recalculating” and I swear it sounded more and more irritated every time it had to do it. I told my friend that if it became any angrier with us it would probably retaliate by having us take a left turn into a ditch. At one point it informed us that we would have to take a right in .28 miles. Now, I have a pretty good sense of direction and a fairly clear idea of what constitutes a mile, but figuring out how far .28 miles might be quickly and with four right turns without street signs in the space of about 100 yards is somewhat beyond me. Naturally, we took the wrong one. The GPS recalculated. We turned around and took the next one. It recalculated again. I told my friend that she just might as well take a left turn into a ditch voluntarily since it was bound to send us into one anyway. Finally, we took the last of the right hand turns, which turned out to be the correct one, and which actually had a street sign that had been impossible to read from 100 yards away.
When we got inside the park there was a sign that said, “Your GPS will not help you here”. What a surprise. I took out a clearly marked topographical map I had downloaded from the Internet on my computer.
“What are we going to do?” my friend asked.
I unfolded the map and located our current position. “We are going to read the map.”
“And then what?” she queried.
“Recalculate,” I said.
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