It is my opinion GPS (Global Positioning System) is somewhere between being a lifesaver and the most annoying technological device ever created. I first encountered GPS in 2001 while visiting Japan. Our driver was using the GPS to get us to our meetings on time. The personality of this GPS device was a young Japanese woman. A quick diatribe here, many people choose women over men’s voices to give them directions, hmmm. So. anyway, every time the woman gave our driver a direction, he bowed to the device and responded loudly はい (hi is yes in Japanese). At the end of our trip, he bowed and thanked the device.

Well, this is way more respect than I have for my GPS. Last month I was on a trip driving back from the east coast. A large snowstorm was on the way and I needed to get back to the island. I often take time to research my route using Google Maps before I go and have strong opinions formed about my route selection, but it turns out so does the GPS. Somewhere many years ago a software engineer designed a program based on algorithms that determine route selection using weighted parameters including shortest distance, tolls, fastest time and road type. But common sense was not included in this equation.

So here I am going down the road and the GPS is telling me to turn off the highway I am on, but I am certain staying on is my best choice given the path of the storm. Well, the GPS gets really upset and starts telling me to get off and go back. It is me versus the devil. The GPS is essentially saying, “You’re going past the exit, Stupid.” This really annoying problem persisted for 20 miles before I shut it off and restarted it. I will NOT be told what to do by a device. Now here is the most important thing to remember, most low-level consumer GPS devices do not account for weather or traffic delays. So here I am faced with my GPS clearly steering me towards the storm, while my instincts are telling me to go the other way. Now remember, men don’t ask for directions, but we all need to at least have a map or atlas close by, because, faced with being in a place we do not know and depending on a device that uses maps last updated five years ago, you learn that it can and will take you places you do not want to go.

Which is exactly what happened to me. With no map handy, in an area I don’t know well, I decided to “trust” my GPS. Why I let myself be sucked into its directions I will never understand. Thanks to my GPS, we could not have made a shorter “beeline” to the worst part of the storm and biggest traffic snarl. Here I am sitting on Interstate 84, a foot of snow on the ground and the highway
is closed, but at least I know where I am, marooned by my GPS! So how does this relate to our island? Well, last summer I saw my first golf cart with a GPS on the island. At first, I was surprised, and then a bit worried. What if an unsuspecting user follows the GPS through the dirt roads of Victory Woods or looks for the missing portion of Erie Road or Victory Lane?

Our older Put-in-Bay Maps have many roads, alleys, and lanes that exist only in the minds of a few of our oldest islanders. But the good news is if there ever was a place where GPS can’t really hurt you it is on an island. Sooner or later any man without a map can find his way to some significant place on the island and call it intentional. I have spoken with a few folks who have enjoyed long detours following their instincts while on the island. They don’t need “no stinking map,” so a GPS can’t really hurt I suppose. Maybe it replaces all the island maps. We can save some trees, reduce wasted “island time” (or is that “wasted island time”) and provide some extra revenue for the Put-in-Bay Golf Carts. By the way, a footnote to my earlier story: I decided to get off the highway and follow my instincts. Finally, the GPS helped me navigate around the closed highway and got me to a hotel, which, as it turned out, was the best advice I have ever gotten from my GPS.

A GPS unit would truly astound islanders of the past. Where they could be lost on the ice in a storm, out on the lake in a thick fog, or trying to find their way back to a dock on a dark night, we think nothing of typing in a couple of coordinates and trust technology to get us home safely. Just make sure you don’t have one of those GPSs for use in a car. Like Peter, it would be very frustrating to us when we’re heading across the ice to the island and the sexy lady on the gadget says, “Take ferry.”Computer technology