Fear GPS Betty!

I’m a bad navigator—missing exits, choosing the wrong route, getting turned around. For years I’ve had a recurring dream where I’m driving around lost in a foreign city. I’m apprehensive, late for my appointment, and clothed only in my underwear. Too proud to stop and ask directions, or even consult a map.

So Barbara got me a GPS for our anniversary. It comes with a tiny “How to Get Started” pamphlet (in four languages), with helpful information such as: “Don’t blame us if you’re distracted and kill yourself in a crash… If the battery explodes and your car catches fire, we don’t want to know about it… It’s not our fault if you get lost…,”etc.

The pamphlet barely mentions how to operate the device, so I plug it into my car’s cigarette lighter, turn it on, and finally figure out how to punch in “350 Nelson Ave., Stillwater, MN.”

While I’m still in the garage, the GPS voice (I call her “Betty”) starts telling me where to go and what to do—“Drive to highlighted route.” I visualize Betty sitting sullenly somewhere in a darkened room, staring at a computer screen. Omniscient, she knows all the roads in North America, and even knows about construction work, detours, and rush-hour traffic. I wonder if she can see and hear me, or if she even cares. She intimidates.

I’ve always considered my wife a sufficient navigation aid (e.g., when she scolds, “you missed your turn!”). Now I have Betty. Barbara wonders if I’ll ever need to use my brain again.

I think Betty’s kind of a control freak. After we turn onto I-35W, she instructs me to “Go five miles to Highway 36; then turn left.” I wonder what route she’s taking me; I want to go a different way. I’m hesitant to contradict her, but I cautiously turn left onto 85th Avenue, thinking maybe she won’t notice.

I’m expecting her to say, “Well do what you like, but you’ll be sorry…” or, “I’ll deal with your wrong turns but I’m not happy about it…” She says none of these things, and merely keeps suggesting that I turn south to Highway 36. I ignore her.

Finally she gives up and says, “Go ten miles, then turn right.” Clearly, she’s given up on Highway 36, but I can tell she’s not happy. Betty says nothing for the next ten miles. I wonder, what is she thinking? Next time she speaks, her voice sounds different—curt, edgy, a bit passive-aggressive. I think she’s offended. I’d like to tell her that I’m not mad at her, ask her about her husband and kids, or ask how her day’s going.

When we reach Stillwater, Betty flawlessly guides us to the Thai Basil restaurant (“You have now arrived at your destination”), and after dinner we drive on our own to Nelson’s Ice Cream Shop. She doesn’t seem to mind.

Driving home from Stillwater I don’t detect any resentment—Betty acts as if all is forgiven. But when we turn in at our driveway Betty says we still have four-tenths of a mile to go. Is this retaliation? No. I remember that when I typed in our street name, I’d left out “West.” Betty was thinking we wanted to go “East.” Not your fault, girl.

I wonder how much more I would have to pay to get a friendly male GPS voice—“Is everything OK?… You’re going great… Beautiful day… You might want to turn left here, but I can work with you if you don’t …” My kind of laid-back guy.

Then, after I gained more confidence, I could buy a trash-talking guy: “Why do ya wanna go there? Work with me here—are ya gonna do what I tell ya?… You idiot! I told you to turn right!… Dude, I can tell you’re confused… OK, I’m shuttin’ down—just drive where you want, but it ain’t gonna be pretty… I don’t care if you get yourself lost!… Come back when you’re ready to listen…” At least I would know where I stood.

I’m still not completely comfortable with Betty but I think we’re achieved a good working relationship. She’ll tolerate a few wrong turns if I follow most of her suggestions and, most importantly, she’ll tolerate me if only I don’t talk back.

5 thoughts on “Fear GPS Betty!

  1. Bob and I sometimes put virtual duck tape on our Garmin, which we named Helen. In other words, we “mute” her if she’s getting too overbearing. After a few miles we give her a little lecture on how to be cooperative and polite before we turn her voice back on.
    The funniest times, though, are when the GPS on my iPhone vehemently contradicts Helen, the Garmin lady. Who is right? Helen, the Garmin lady, or Gretchen from Google? It’s an all-out contest of artificial intelligence that leaves the driver stressed-out and confused. In the end, our human common sense needs wisdom to know when to override technology and when to blithely succumb to its “help.”

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  2. It sounds like there’s still plenty of work to be done on Betty’s Human Interface!

    I wonder if you would be more unnerved if Betty *did* carry on a conversation while gently guiding you! I guess we’ll find out in a few years!

    Funny post, thanks.

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  3. You can talk back to Betty as much as you want… and she’ll ALWAYS recompute, no matter how many times you disobey her instructions. She’s totally forgiving… and will get you there, provided her maps are accurate and up to date…

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