Where do you think you’re going?

Recent press and television broadcasts (Tonight with Trevor McDonald, Friday, May 12) merely confirm what I have been thinking for a while. SatNav, what do we think we’re doing with it?

Today’s Computer Weekly carries a letter outlining the sorry story of the Clifton Suspension Bridge which sees a steady stream of juggernauts approach toll-booths that are too narrow for them. Similarly, today’s Times carries a piece relating to how the ambulance service, who I believe should have known better, followed the SatNav route which turned out to be longer, but more scenic…not that the injured party was overly keen on the passing scenery whilst en route to hospital.

Ever since the first affordable, mass-market SatNav kit hit the market, folks have become so obsessed with it. I even know of a situation where an employee (in my last job) used TomTom to find his way to his base office…an office that he drove to plenty of times before the arrival of “turn right in to Arden Grove, you have arrived at your destination”. What’s worse, the offending employee was on a conference call using his mobile ‘phone at the time…everybody on the call realised the faux pas!

I have been driving now for nearly 20 years, never have I needed more than a road atlas and some brief instructions on how to cover the last couple of miles…of any journey. Of course, today, I use MultiMap to give me the last couple of miles, and why not? It’s free, unlike the millions of SatNav units that are being sold world-wide. Fair enough, the profusion of devices has bod well for the likes of ARM whose chips can be found in millions of SatNav-capable devices world-wide.

We’ve become so reliant on SatNav, what on earth will we do if the underlying positioning system suffers from overload or fails? There you are, you’re merrily driving along, under careful instruction of your chosen SatNav device and “puff”, that’s it, no more directions, silence, what do you do? Where do you go? Hint: the hard shoulder is for emergency use only, your SatNav giving up the ghost is not an emergency. And if you’ve got a celebrity voice-over installed, say Richard Wilson, you can imagine what he would say when the positioning system fails to respond…”I don’t believe it!”

I’ll tell you where you go. You go back to basics. You learn about maps, you learn how to use them. At the end of the day, it’ll make you a safer driver. SatNav devices are bound to cause serious accidents, if they haven’t already actually caused any. After all, it’s all very well listening to the nice lady “in 50 yards, take the next left” but there’s also that little animated screen. Now that’s clever. Not only are we privy to an audio broadcast of where to go, that little PocketPC screen can show us where to go. And it looks very neat, very impressive. Nice, graphical depictions of roundabouts, the route ahead, speed limits, etc. It’s nice to watch, but then, so is the road ahead of you and all around you. I’d rather you watched what was going on around you and ahead of you because one day, I might be crossing the road ahead of you. I’ll be the one with the generic MP3 player and I will be wearing headphones, listening to my tunes. It’ll be dark at the time, I’ll be wearing black for your benefit. And if it isn’t me, it might be somebody you care about.

Worried about unemployment in your locale? Stick SatNav devices in to taxis and suddenly the local equivalent of the knowledge is no longer required. Anybody can drive a car with a SatNav device fitted and start calling themselves a taxi driver. Wouldn’t you prefer a local driver with local knowledge who was capable of answering your questions about the locale?

The bulk of the SatNav population have forgotten where they’re going, just plug a post code into the dashboard toy, listen to the instructions and you’re off. Suddenly we’ve become a nation who can’t read maps, who can’t drive past the end of our own driveway without the basic TomTom, or worse a celebrity keeping us company. That said, I find the thought of John Cleese providing directions more than amusing.

Should we be leaving the SatNav devices for those folks who really need it (such as the military and emergency services)? The same technology that we’re using today, has been used by the military for many years. They’ve used it to find their way around unknown territory during close knit battles, it has saved countless lives. And here we are, using it to get us to the chip shop, the office or our mother-in-law’s house.

4 thoughts on “Where do you think you’re going?”

  1. I had a similar chat with a couple of salespeople from my company after helping out with a sales presentation. One of them asked me if I had a TomTom – and was amazed when I said no. I’d looked up the location of the customer on Google Maps, looked at the Google suggested route – which was crazy in places, then printed out an extract from an OS map from their website, and followed a different and quicker route on the OS map. Got there with no problems at all.

    What is interesting is that I *did* have satnav, back in the days when TomTom were selling the early versions of Route Planner and Street Planner on the Psion, but didn’t bother to upgrade it on the basis that I still tended to trust a paper map. On a couple of occasions I’d hook it up to a GPS, but thanks to the selection of errors, missing roads and so on, the online and up to date OS mapping was much more useful.

  2. Richard, there’s never been a better time to upgrade your tomtom. Craig i’d like to agree with you but some of us haven’t got the time to read these map or are just not good at it.
    Mark like the voices thanks keep up the work
    if you have a tomtom You can download free tomtom voices at: GpsIce.co.uk
    you can also download different map colors.
    and splash screens

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