By The Big Guy
I couldn’t wait to be able to afford a car that had a GPS system built right into the dash. Now that I got my wish I’m wondering if it was such a good idea. I’m beginning to think that the people who write the directional software that powers our GPS devices get together every Friday night at some Buffalo Wild Wings and have a good laugh on the rest of us.
I recently visited a destination seven hundred miles away. Prior to leaving I checked three different mapping programs on three different devices. I used my coveted GPS in the car. I used a mapping program on my phone. Finally I used Google Maps, the software that is probably most responsible for driving the folks at Rand McNally into the arms of an equity firm for survival. All three sources measured the trip within a mile or two of each other and each provided me with a driving time: ten hours forty-two minutes, eleven hours forty minutes and twelve hours forty-five minutes. What is going on here?
How do these programs calculate driving time? I assume they take the miles and the various speed limits along those miles and then just do the math. Do they take into consideration feedback from users? By feedback here I am referring to that software agreement that you don’t read that says that your device will send off information about you and your use of the software to the mother ship which will analyze the information to help improve the software without ever identifying you as an individual or pairing up your information with your address to share with those who might use the information to sell you things. Right.
Okay, back to the feedback. While using your GPS does the time of day have any bearing on the length of time displayed? Does it note whether you will be passing through a large city at rush hour or making the trip in the middle of the night? How about the way you drive? If you like to park the cruise control at a comfortable twenty miles an hour over the posted speed limit as you cross Indiana does the GPS take note of this and adjust your travel time down, not counting the time you spend stopped at the side of the road talking to the nice state policeman?
Perhaps the thing that makes the least sense is that they give you a route between proverbial points A and B and then when it’s time to get you back to A from B they provide a completely different path, I’m guessing just to piss us off. There is no other possible justification.
Back in the day (which means back when telephones had dials and were mounted on a wall in the kitchen where they would stay forever) my dad would visit an office of the AAA when we were going on vacation, always by car, and pick up a TripTik (yes I know they still exist today but they’re not the same). It was handmade by a clerk specifically for him while he waited, a booklet of little strip maps with a yellow marker line that showed how to get from Cleveland to Buffalo or wherever. The clerk would point out the places along the way where we could expect to run into road construction. It was all my dad needed. It reminds me once again that the twenty-first century remains a work in progress.