Thursday, May 21, 2009

Highway to the sky

After reading a CoolTools review of the Garmin Nuvi 350 -- "As of now, the Garmin Nuvi 350 is the starter car nav device to get" -- I decided it was finally time to join the GPS revolution. Previously our technophiliac household batted for the Luddites in two major areas: satellite car navigation, and cell phones. Now we're just holding out on the cell phone, and as of a few days ago, we were wavering. (Our cell is a prepaid TracFone that stays in its charger unless there's a babysitter with the kids or one of us is on a trip.)

We got the Nuvi for Christmas, but it's a measure how rarely we go anywhere other than our extremely familiar small town that we didn't install it for a few months thereafter. A few times we've used it to navigate in Little Rock; Noel used it to locate ATMs and his parents' new house on his trip to Nashville earlier this week; and today I turned it on to get guidance to my boss's house, where we were holding an administrative retreat.

I've been to that house, which is in a neighboring town some 20 miles from here, a few times since my boss built a house and moved there about 18 months ago. But it's still unfamiliar territory, nestled in a maze of subdivision roads in a hilly, confusing, still-expanding development. For a moment after I turned it on and entered the address, I was concerned; the only "Seminole" that came up was "Seminole Cir," and my boss (and Google Maps) gives his street as "Seminole Lane." You know how subdivisions are -- there could be both a Seminole Circle and Lane, unrelated to each other, somewhere within that complex of neighborhoods.

But I decided to trust the nav system at least until it got me to my boss's town, figuring that I would know if it recommended a wrong turn off the main drag since I could easily remember that far. I also sneaked a peek at Google Maps directions before I left, so when the Nuvi told me to turn on Odom South, I knew that the two were in agreement. And to my surprise, the robotic female voice guided me straight to Rick's house without missing a beat. Turns out its brain is smarter than the mapmakers who can't decide whether his street is a Circle or a Lane.

Late adopter that I am, I'm still astonished that my car is connected to a satellite uplink. Twenty years ago, surely the idea that satellite triangulation of location would someday be accurate enough and consumer-friendly enough to know whether your car is on the road or in the parking lot was hard to fathom. So much technological capacity that would once have been fiercely guarded and restricted to military applications has become available for everyday use. The next step, of course, is for us to get so used to this stuff that we lose patience when it's not available or doesn't work. For that, we need Louis CK's words of wisdom: It's going to space. Give it a second.

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