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January 29, 2008

Navigating Beauty

Cherry_trees My new Christmas toy last month was a Garmin GPS for my car. As virtually everyone at PF knows, I suffer frequent navigational difficulties if I have to travel more than 2/10ths of a mile (and even if I have to travel less than 2/10ths of a mile, I often get lost at least once). The colleagues I call for navigational assistance (such as Kim and Dave the Swede) suffer right along with me, whether they want to or not.

I've been trying the GPS out on familiar routes around home, just to get the hang of it, and two things quickly became apparent: 1. I'm going to love this thing. 2. The use of my GPS is one more technological advance that will strip beauty out of my life, if I let it.

Over the years, traveling around the Washington suburbs, I've settled on favorite routes--routes that led me past lovely gardens, historic homes, and roads bracketed by flowering cherry trees in the spring. If possible, I avoid streets that lead me past ugly strip malls and squalor--even it it takes me a few minutes longer to arrive at my destination. When I arrive, I feel much more peaceful than I would had I driven along Route Ugly.

But the GPS doesn't care about beauty or peace of mind. It cares only about speed. The demanding voice my GPS insists I abandon lovely, familiar routes in favor of faster and uglier ones. It insists that I jump on the Beltway to save two minutes instead of strolling through lovely old Bethesda neighborhoods. (It also wants me to drive past a construction site instead of, say, a Dunkin Donuts, but that's another matter.) Mapquest, of course, does the same thing. It's the triumph of untilitarianism on wheels.

I wonder if they'll ever be able to design these things to allow one to program it to pick the most attractive route rather than the quickest one.

Naturally, when I'm traveling to an unfamiliar destination, I'm going to do whatever the GPS tells me to do. But as soon as I get comfortable with the drive, you can bet I'll try to figure out a more attractive, peaceful way to get to my destination, if the one my GPS suggests I take lacks beauty. Or a Dunkin Donuts.

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As one who lives about three hours from the nearest Dunkin Donuts....I feel your pain. You must....MUST....stop because as we all know....America runs on Dunkin. hehe


I know on MapQuest (or maybe Google? or maybe both?) there is an "avoid highways" function you can check, maybe your GPS has something similar. Hopefully you'll be able to stick to your scenic routes and only use the GPS when you're really lost (or really late).


I think, Anne, you've hit on the reason why "the future" is often portrayed as ugly and drab in science fiction. The triumph of technology is often associated with the failure of aesthetics.

Check out the "Points of Interest" feature - it can automatically locate nearby Dunkin Donuts for you. So there are some compensations... :-)

Dave the Swede

I, too, received a Garmin for Christmas. At first, I chuckled at the gift, because I pride myself on being able to find my way around anywhere. But I used Garmin on a trip to Canada, and it got me out of downtown Ottawa at rush hour with no problems. So I've grown to appreciate it.

Here's a thought for you, Anne. Think of Garmin as a tether. You can go off the direct route it has chosen for you, but it will always recalculate and at least keep you heading in the right direction. So input your destination and then go ahead and take the scenic route. Garmin will get you where you want to go at the end of the trip . . .

Unless, of course, you have to be in at 10 AM for a BreakPoint meeting.


Just be careful about making the same mistake this guy did!!!


Anne Morse

Beth: That is hysterical!!!

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