“Stay in the left lane.”
“In one mile, make a U-turn.”
“In 800-feet, make a U-turn.”
“In 200-feet, make a U-turn.”
My GPS unrelentingly urged me to perform an illegal U-turn while I remained steadfast in my refusal to play along.
With all of its intelligence, shouldn’t it know better than to demand I make an unlawful turn? If it can pinpoint my precise location on the entire planet, to the exclusion of all other locations, and knows the location of my destination within just a couple of feet, it doesn’t seem to be a stretch that it would also know where U-turns are illegal and not recommend them. And yet there we were – at a stalemate.
Since I had no interest in engaging in a debate with a police officer about how my ‘tiny little mishap’ should be blamed on my GPS, I kept driving straight through the next traffic light instead.
“At the next light, make a U-turn,” she advised me again.
“Nope,” I muttered, growing increasingly irritated. I kept driving, waiting for her to reroute me.
“In one mile, make a U-turn,” she demanded again.
“STOP IT!” I shouted angrily above the ironically-timed Christmas carol blasting from my speakers.
“Joy to the World…” I sang between my annoyed outbursts.
“It’s snowing and the roads are icy,” I quibbled with my GPS, adding, “A U-turn would be dangerous.”
“Make a U-turn ahead,” she ordered one more time.
I finally resigned myself to that fact that I probably did indeed need to turn around, and took a left turn down a side street to initiate reversing my direction and she finally ceased her repetitive demands.
I’ve engaged in similar arguments with my GPS many times. Unfortunately though, it usually just results in a whole lot of backtracking on my part and heading in what I firmly believe, until proven otherwise, is entirely the wrong direction. And that just serves to remind me I should have more respect for GPS technology. Before it existed, I spent hours of my life studying paper maps, yet still often ended up heading the wrong direction and winding up completely lost.
I’ve driven down many an unknown road while holding up a wrinkled, heavily creased and torn paper map, pressing it against my steering wheel, frantically looking for the name of the street I’m currently on and attempting to decipher where I could possibly turn to head in the right direction. This would often result in my crumpling the map into a ball and throwing it over my shoulder in frustration into the back seat.
Eventually I learned to spend my evenings studying those paper maps in the comfort of my home, neatly writing down directions on post-it notes I could stick to my dashboard for the next day’s travels. Or more accurately, that I could repeatedly bend down and pick up from my floormat to stick back up on my dashboard for that day’s travels.
Regrettably, however, I commonly forgot to write down directions for how to return home, which caught me completely by surprise when I came to the realization, every single time, that it wasn’t as straightforward as simply using the same directions, but backwards, to get home.
On one particularly frustrating day I spent an hour-and-a-half driving all over San Francisco, just attempting to find any freeway ramp that would get me out of the city. It had already been a very bad day and it was clearly not going improve any time soon.
“How is it impossible to find an escape hatch from a 7-mile long by 7-mile wide city built on a peninsula?” I begged of the universe.
Years later, I engaged in my very first argument with a GPS, when I was once again lost and trying to get out of San Francisco. I’d been looking forward to an easy drive home that wouldn’t require any effort on my part to navigate. But it was a stereotypical foggy night and I soon discovered that my brand new GPS couldn’t get a signal through the fog.
“What is your point if you can’t even communicate with a satellite when it’s just foggy?” I shouted, realizing that once again, I was on my own to drive around the city until I could find an on-ramp that would successfully take me away from the city and down the peninsula.
“Buckle up and enjoy the scenery son,” I said, adding, “We’ve got an hour-and-a-half ahead of us to get out of here.”
Lamentably, my life uncannily parallels my driving experience. I’ve been circling around San Francisco for much of my life. The unpredictable twists and turns often leave me completely lost. Unfortunately, there is no GPS to guide our lives. If there was, I would have heard, many times, a resounding: “Make a U-turn!”
That would have been sage and timely advice on myriad occasions. A neutral app with a voice giving me recommendations beyond the decisions my highly-flawed human brain is able to make, would have been highly beneficial as it could have told me:
“Don’t marry that man.”
“Call the police NOW.”
“You’ll regret buying that house.”
“Don’t take that dead-end job.”
“That person is wasting your time and energy.”
“The one you trust most will betray and abandon you.”
Unfortunately the human brain isn’t comprised of logical decision-making algorithms like a GPS. Our brains are heavily swayed by emotions. And when we reach out to others for guidance, their brains may be fueled by ulterior motives.
Not only that, we’re completely blind to all the potential outcomes of our decisions. We take leaps of faith, while crossing our fingers and hoping for the best. Yet we’re often tormented later by the fallout from those leaps. And unfortunately, we can’t simply slap ourselves on the forehead and ask, “Why didn’t I just listen to the GPS?”
But why can’t we just get a loud and clear voice telling us it’s high time for a U-turn? Or even better…directing us not to make choices in the first place that, predictably, will end terribly?
If a life-GPS existed, I’d be first in line to purchase one, no matter how much it cost. If I had to camp out in line all night in freezing weather to secure one, I’d pitch my tent and curl up in my sleeping bag until the sun came up. That’s how badly I want this in my life. I NEED this in my life.
But I also know myself well enough to recognize that the odds are high I’d remain steadfast in my refusal to follow its advice and continue heading down whatever path I’m already on – at least until the moment it becomes wildly obvious my GPS has been right all along.
Because 99% of the time it will be right. And it will always be able to guide me back home.