Diversions make life more interesting

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 19, 2011

Armed with Mapquest instructions and a pretty good sense of direction, I’ve never been interested in having a navigation system in my vehicle. But when someone told me the hotel where I was to attend a seminar was hard to find and Nashville was generally difficult to negotiate, I borrowed Honey’s for the trip.

The electronic female voice that speaks for Garmin sounds like a witch. And the witch’s behavior is rather witchy, too.

She doesn’t like pit stops and other distractions. “Recalculating,” she cackles, firmly, insistently, and repeatedly any time one takes a turn that’s not at her direction. Good heavens! What’s wrong with stopping for a glass of iced tea or to visit a friend? And doesn’t she know that supper is necessary?

Others must find that voice less annoying than I, based on the national statistics. Just this week, one of the largest global wireless location-based service providers released information about where we Americans want to go. The company, which has 20 million subscribers, found that most of the business searches are for Wal-mart, followed by Target and Starbucks. Best Buy came in fourth, followed by a national bank. Those in the Washington, D.C., area need direction more than the rest of the country.

(I swear I just heard John Howard say, “Amen to that!”)

Just as automakers are designing more vehicles with built-in navigation systems, “experts” are warning that people are becoming overly-dependent upon navigation systems that could easily fail. Natural disasters, intentional hits, and system failures are the top three reasons we should be wary of overdependence.

Meanwhile, manufacturers are looking for ways to make us more dependent, offering products for bicycles and boats.

Early in the Garmin-directed trip, I wondered if it might be helpful to have a similar device to keep me on track throughout the day. Instead of “recalculating,” the voice could cackle the unfinished task over and over when a distraction interrupted progress. It could be particularly useful in my line of work, for I rarely finish one thing before a question or issue needing my attention arises. News happens, the phone rings, someone’s question or task is more urgent than the one at hand until a looming deadline gives us all laser focus.

But in life, as on the road, some of those most interesting experiences are the diversions. I think I’ll give the Garmin back and attempt to keep my decent sense of direction before it goes the way of those phone numbers I knew before my cell phone memorized them.