Map musings

c: | f: /

My old map book is falling to bits, but I have a suspicion I soon won’t be able to buy a replacement. No, I don’t have sat-nav. There’s a jolly good reason for that.

Pretty much everyone I know has some form of sat-nag device in their car. And they have all tried to convince me to buy something similar. The arguments invariably begin with one of the following statements:

  • Sat-nav is really handy when you get to built-up areas.
  • It’s saved me loads of time when I get close to my destination.
  • It helps me avoid congestion.

So what do you think the very next phrase out of their mouths begins with, for every single one of the above shining reasons?

“Except that time when…”

It transpires that for every few times that satellite navigation is wonderful, there are times when it goes very wrong.

For example:

  • in heavily built-up areas like London, the skyscrapers interrupt the signal so often that the thing’s damn near useless when you need it most.
  • when it thinks you’re driving through a field because the (expensive) database is out of date, and the machine whines at you to turn around before you maim a cow.
  • when it proudly announces you’ve arrived and you’re still miles away from your destination, then falls silent.
  • camp site owners write in a bold font on their directions page to ignore your sat-nav.

The list goes on. Everyone has a story for when sat-nag has failed them. I’ve yet to have a situation when the humble old map combined with road signs and common sense have failed me. Oh, except that time in Shipley where all signs for neighbouring towns pointed back to Shipley town centre as if the place didn’t want me to leave :-)

But I digress. So faced with the overwhelming averageness of technology, why would I settle for something inferior? Do I get lost? Of course. Do I miss turns? Absolutely. Have I stopped to ask local people where landmarks are, or how to get round a flooded road? Yes. But all the while I’m performing this re-routing task, trying to get where I’m going, I’m thinking. Using my brain.

I have a strong belief that relying on satellites for guidance is making the roads more dangerous. Because when the system does go wrong, or a road is closed, or there’s some catastrophe ahead, or it sends you in circles as the software tries desperately to guide you into the same obstruction you know you can’t bypass, people fall to pieces when that nagging box of tricks isn’t there to help.

Plus it repeats instructions two or three times, and still manages to remain ambiguous in many places, causing drivers to go down one way streets the wrong way or take turns too early because they’re not observing the roads and signs outside the vehicle. I mean, why bother to use your eyes when infallible tech has got your back?

I’ve been a passenger and witnessed previously confident drivers reduced to tight balls of stress where they suddenly don’t know which direction their destination is because of a road closure. They can’t seem to figure out that they need to go that way even if the destination is within sight, because Little Miss Magic is sitting in stunned silence trying to work out what the hell you’re doing disobeying a direct order. It’s like sat-nav gradually supplants the brain’s internal path finding system with a feeble digital representation that is a quite a few bits short of a byte.

So how can any device be good for us, when it strips away our ability to think behind the wheel of a killing machine, makes us worse drivers, bad navigators and increases stress levels? I say no thanks. If and when the technology improves to the point that it can beat the printed page and my head, I’ll consider it. Not until.

In the meantime, if anybody has an up-to-date UK road atlas they don’t want any more — the bigger scale the better — I can give it a loving home in my car.

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