Legends from our own lunchtimes

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Tell me where to go

Duncan and Aiden are doing research into GPS (that's the satellite based Global Positioning Systems not to be confused with the Greater Public Schools of our youth) as part of their Engineering PhD's, and I suppose that makes them the closest thing to rocket scientists I know.

They are also very sensibly building small wooden boats, I suppose so that in the event of a catastrophic breakdown of the positioning system, they can get away by following the stars out to where the dark blue bit meets the light blue bit just like we used to in the old days before there were satellites.

Talking to them got me thinking about Satellite navigation in cars, and how unbelievably useless it is in a country where roads just head off in a straight line for hundreds of kilometres, and the way the manufacturers attempt to gain acceptance for any inaccuracy in their mapping, simply by using a synthesised female voice to provided directions.

"Turn left in two hundred and twelve kilometres"
"Turn left in two hundred and eleven kilometres"
"Turn left in two hundred and ten kilometres"

Just turn it off and listen to the radio.

Undoubtedly the logic behind using a female voice is to capitalise on the well known deficiencies in directional sensitivity within that gender, but the more thought I give the subject the more disconcerting it becomes. If there is indeed a woman in that little box on the dashboard, how do I know she hasn't turned the whole kit and caboodle upside-down to work out where I am supposed to be going?

How do I know when she tells me to turn left, that she didn't mean the other left, or worse, that she actually meant right but said left because the map was upside down so she'd made "allowances". I'm almost certain the only reason there hasn't been a class action over the inaccuracy of the things is that it would lose on grounds of gender discrimination.

Quite a long time ago, the occupants of the front seats in our car decided that there'd be no more navigation, particularly when we are on a touring sort of holiday. The air is much clearer that way, the language more conducive to comfort. If ever we feel that we don't particularly know exactly where we may be entirely, we simply find a car which looks like it knows where it's going, and follow it.

So far we've managed to have an enormous number of adventures relying on this method, happening on things that we would never have happened upon, and places we would never otherwise have thought to go.

As greater, better, cheaper, gadgets evolve, although I can't actually foresee a time when an in car navigation system will be on our shopping list, I have a foreboding sense of inevitability that one day, we'll buy a car that has one fitted.

This fear is compounded by the probability that the car that we always follow will have one as well, so while he once looked as though he knew where he was going, the female voice from his dashboard will place just enough uncertainty in his driving to convince us he's lost too, so we'd better not follow him.

There's a little pub at the end of a road and round the corner somewhere that we'll never stumble across, because we'll always know where we are, and where we are going and why we are going there. It will be the end of the exclusive hideaway because nothing will be hidden away from the far reaching tentacles of the satellite map. We will have lost the joy of random exploration.

The cast of "Lost" will need to find new jobs because we'll all discover that all this time they've actually been on Gilligan's Island, the only place on earth that's a short day sail from a major population centre, yet until now, impossible to find.

Deep down I suspect that the final episode will feature two young Doctors of Engineering discovering the place by celestial navigation while travelling in a small square boat with a polytarp sail.

That's technology for you!



Anonymous said...

Interestingly (or so I believe) I have just read an article which discusses the use of female voices for GPS systems, and found that it caused a significant number of road accidents in male drivers, who seemed hesitant to trust the female navigator. It generally caused feelings of anger and frustration. Similar studies using an assertive male voice showed a significant decrease in the number of road deaths.

bitingmidge said...

I thought it was the assertive male voice that was being blamed for young ladies driving into fishponds because the GPS told them to.

I'll have to ask the boys. Maybe there's a whole new subject of study here.


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