Google Maps -- or any similar electronic GPS -- is a mixed blessing, says Cheryl Katz. On the one hand, it saves time by keeping us from meandering too far afield. But on the other hand, where's the fun in that? (BiblioArchives/ LibraryArchives/flickr)
I’m the first to admit that I, like just about everyone else I know, am addicted to technology. I rely on my iPhone for just about everything.
My use of e-mail and text messaging borders on the compulsive. I can express every thought at the exact moment that it occurs, articulated with a certain laissez-faire attitude toward spelling and grammar and with little time for reflection. Similarly, my phone gives answers to all my questions — legitimate or otherwise — at lightning speed.
My dad, who peppered all his conversations with platitudes (delivered with just enough gravitas to make my sister and me believe that he had invented them), would have said about all this technology, “It’s too good to be true.” And, with a few exceptions, he would have been right.
A few months after my now-husband, Jeffrey, and I started dating, long before the advent of smartphones, he invited me to join him on a trip to visit his parents, who were living in England at the time. His plan was that we would spend the summer using their house as a home base while we took days-long car trips through the countryside to see as many English country houses as possible — a dream for a young architect and his new girlfriend, a burgeoning decorator.
Jeffrey left for England a week ahead of me in order to orchestrate our house tour. When I arrived at his parents’ house in Leicester, I was greeted by all the things we would need for our trip — piles of pamphlets, oversized architecture books and a stack of road maps.
Our first excursion would last five days, with only pediments, period furniture and shepherd’s pie to distract us. In the bloom of our new romance, we would learn things about one another that only traveling together can teach. We both came to believe, as we do to this day, that being good travel companions forms the foundation of a solid relationship.
But this trip would test that theory. About an hour into it, Jeffrey, driver and tour organizer extraordinaire, realized that I could not read a map. Sixty minutes and many missed exits later, it was clear that I had failed at my one responsibility, to be an able co-pilot.
At best, my map reading skills were poor. But when I was riding in a car on the wrong side of the road, down lanes one car-width wide, past streets without signposts, sitting next to someone I was mad about, they were abysmal. The more I tried — folding and refolding that map a dozen times — the worse it got.
Though Jeffrey’s behavior was exemplary, I could sense his frustration. We rode in polite silence for what seemed an eternity, until finally he pulled over to the side of the road. Taking a red pencil out of his knapsack, he traced the route that I was to follow as he drove. Given my skills, even this was far from foolproof.
But somehow our meandering that day, and on subsequent days, took us past verdant rolling hills, grazing sheep, thatch-roofed houses and stone walls, through tiny villages and town centers, until, miraculously, we arrived at the formal gardens and grand houses that we had set out to find.
Over the years, on other trips, it continued that way. Mistakes and missed turns, lots of laughs, a few tears (most notably when I was so busy trying to read the map of the Hollywood Hills that I missed the homes of both Sandra Dee and Liberace) and my constant lament, “I think I might have overlooked something” — took us to places we never planned on going.
But those days are gone.
These days it’s a much more secure voice that directs Jeffrey, one that speaks in dulcet tones. Voice-activated Google Maps gets us to where we’re going, while I am free to sit in the passenger seat and pick up my email or text my colleagues at work, or get the answers to my most burning questions — “How old is Lena Dunham?” or “Where can I get the best brioche in Brooklyn?” And, if I’m having a hankering for a latte, she (is it ever a he?) lets me know that there’s a Starbucks 2.7 miles away.
Last month we were in Miami visiting Jeffrey’s father, who recently moved there.
When he asked us to run some errands for him — Best Buy, Publix, Target, Verizon and a computer repair shop — it was a bit of a relief to know that we could rely on our pocket-size navigator to get us where we needed to go.
There were no surprises, no detours, no U turns, and no pressure. But there was something much less fun about the perfunctory nature of it all. Who knows what we might have stumbled upon if we had lost our way?
As my own father might have said, “Don’t miss the forest for the trees.”
The views and opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the writer and do not in any way reflect the views of WBUR management or its employees.