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GPS Nav: Turning Map Hands Into Useless Flippers?

It wasn’t long ago that a Roadside road trip meant dozens of paper maps and pages of printed-out, turn-by-turn directions. The job of map-reader on any given day was as vital as it was thankless. The absence of a crucial state or city map — or just the blobby quality of some of them — made navigation-by-instinct a necessity, as well as the inevitable stop at the lonely mini-mart to ask directions of some befuddled local teen.

GPS in action.Now, we just input the addresses of whatever Roadside attractions we want into the car’s GPS navigator, and let it do the work. We don’t talk to anyone. Our once nimble map-folding hands have devolved, shrunken to weak and useless nubbins, capable only of tapping on a GPS device.

Ah, if only it were so.

Many roadside attractions have street locations that are not exactly the same as their street addresses. This doesn’t matter when you’re trying to find something tall on a prairie, like the World’s Largest Pop Bottle in Oklahoma, but many attractions are not so easy to spot. If you’re attempting to track down the Birthplace of Angie Dickinson or the First White Man Dies in America marker, difference of a quarter-mile or a block or two can prove impossible to overcome.

(We suspect that some of the reports we receive from tipsters of vanished attractions that later turn out not to have vanished may be the result of an over-obedience to robot navigators.)

And there are a fair share of Roadside wonders that are off of the maps used by normal humans. A car navigator can only get you close; the rest of the way is up to you.

Still, there is a giddy and scary thrill — at least to control freaks like us — when you turn on your GPS and just trust it to take you where you want to go. Our assessment thus far: the robot navigators only work if you prepare them ahead of time. Double-check the destinations, and call ahead to verify location (get a local landmark) and hours. Otherwise you may end up as frustrated as you would be if you used a blobby map, or trusted some flawed human directions.

Sections: Trends, Trip Tools 6 Comments »

6 Responses to “GPS Nav: Turning Map Hands Into Useless Flippers?”

  1. Tara Says:
    July 31st, 2009 at 1:50 pm

    Not only are we no longer/more rarely using maps/printed directions – we don’t get the rare thrill of asking someone for directions along the way who replies: “Go down this road apiece, then left when you see the blue flowers – there’ll be a whole bunch-un-em by the road. Turn there, and go for a while – a long while – before you take a right by the Mills’ barn. It’s red, not bright red, like a brown red. Yeah. Then it’ll just come up and bite you.”

  2. Craig Says:
    August 1st, 2009 at 4:02 am

    I still use maps a lot because they give me a “big picture” view that I can’t get on a little LCD screen.

    A GPS in the car actually makes it easier to take spur-of-the-moment detours. I can now see whether or not that side road will bring me back to somewhere useful, or if I’ll have to retrace my steps.

  3. Jon Says:
    August 2nd, 2009 at 8:05 am

    My GPS only comes out at motels for planning after mis-timed audio instruction and old/missing map data (I bought a Cobra w/harddrive for this?). I can mis-navigate by any method, but I hate bad signage…I was trying to follow US9 N into northern NJ “use left lane” when the Garden State PKWY split from the highway to I95. NO sign for US9 so I missed my urban crawl I had planned and hit the Comfort Inn in Paramus for an EARLY 12:30PM check-in! Thanks (and I used to drive over-the-road in this area)

  4. Lisa Says:
    August 2nd, 2009 at 9:10 am

    I use Streets & Trips on my laptop. It it the best of both with the “big picture” and GPS navigation.

  5. Brian Rathjen Says:
    August 6th, 2009 at 7:11 am

    We use our GPS as a routing tool. We plot our own route and we do not let the GPS plot it for us. High end Garmins have this capability. First we see where we want to go on paper and then follow along with the Road Trip Mac program and download it to the GPS.

  6. Dave Says:
    August 8th, 2009 at 11:07 am

    We used a Garmin this year for the road trip and it worked pretty well sans the occasional ‘poor satellite reception’ message. Alas, however, while on said road trip, while visiting the home of his Air Force son and sweet, kind and beautiful daughter in law, in his triumph, the old man pulled out his Garmin; however, the 23-year-old son, then pulls out his I-phone complete with 3G service, GPS, trip planner, step by step direction app, real-time traffic, Google street view, etc. Sigh…

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