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Sara Foss's Thinking It Through
by Sara Foss

Thinking It Through

A Daily Gazette life blog
Her column and blog rolled into one
 

Embracing technology, sort of

By Sara Foss
Friday, August 16, 2013

When my parents got me a GPS for Christmas, I responded with skepticism.

I decried society’s increasing reliance on electronic gadgets to perform basic tasks, and bemoaned the fact that I would never get lost again. I forwarded them an article about a Belgian woman who accidentally drove 900 miles to Croatia thanks to a GPS error; though her destination was only about 90 miles away, she drove for two days, slept by the side of the road and got into a minor accident.

But when my irritation finally wore off, I found that my GPS was pretty useful. On my road trip in April, I used it to guide my journey from New York to Alabama, and whenever I travel to an unknown destination, I plug it in and wait for its soothing robotic voice to give me directions.

Because I am not an early adopter of new technology, many of my friends have responded to my use of the GPS as if praising a precocious child.

“Well, look at you!” my friend Monica exclaimed, when I plugged it in for our drive to Mass MoCA’s Solid Sound music festival back in June. She then recalled her harrowing late-night drive home from Solid Sound two years ago, which involved getting lost on the steep and windy back roads of western Massachusetts at 1 a.m. and taking an unorthodox route back to the Capital Region through towns such as Voorheesville and West Sand Lake.

“A GPS would have prevented that,” she noted.

The GPS is not the first technological device that I’ve resisted, only to do a complete 180 and embrace it wholeheartedly.

I held off on getting a cell phone for years, mainly because I feared being available at all times and worried that the device would turn me into the sort of person who is constantly texting, talking, emailing and updating their Facebook status. But eventually I came to recognize that a cell phone would make my life easier, by allowing me to screen my calls and get in touch with friends more easily.

I don’t own an iPod, Kindle or iPad.

When I travel, I bring books and magazines and, if I’m driving, a stack of CDs. I rely on my ancient cellphone, which I refer to as my dumbphone, because it is certainly not a smartphone. I can see that it is time to replace the dumbphone with something more sophisticated, and whenever my cell phone provider sends me an offer for a free smartphone, I save it.

But I have yet to take action. My head tells me that I need an upgrade, but my heart says otherwise. However, the Gazette has supplied me with an iPhone, and I can sense that it will make certain things easier if I can just figure out how to use it.

It’s not that I dislike technology, exactly.

It’s just that I don’t think it’s the solution to all our problems, or that a Kindle or an iPod would make my life exponentially better. Even the GPS, which has proven to be useful, is not a panacea for all navigational challenges.

I discovered this last weekend, when my parents visited. We used the GPS to get to the Clark Art Institute, and it worked perfectly fine. But we ran into a bit of trouble driving back to Albany.

The trouble began when my parents noticed that the gas gauge was extremely low. Immediately, a crisis mentality took hold.

“Oh no!” my mother exclaimed. “We’re going to run out of gas!”

“Let’s use the GPS to find a gas station,” my father said.

According to the GPS, there was a gas station a short distance away. We turned off Route 7, and began heading in the direction of the Berkshire Bird Paradise in Petersburg. “This is lovely,” I said. “I’ve never seen this part of Rensselaer County before.”

When the GPS directed us down a dirt road, we grew alarmed.

But we still did what it said, because we were under a bizarre, technology-induced spell.

“Where is the GPS taking us?” my mother asked, as my father navigated the bumpy unpaved road. “Do you really think the general store is a half mile away?” I remained optimistic, but my hopes were dashed when we ended up at a nice farmhouse.

“Oh, no!” my mother said. “We’re going to run out of gas!”

Instead, a nice mailman provided directions to a Stewart’s about seven miles away, and we managed to get there without breaking down. Still, I think it will be a while before I turn to the GPS for help finding a gas station. In fact, I plan to keep doing what I usually do when I’m low on gas: Keep driving until I find one.

Last weekend, I hiked Crane Mountain in Warren County, which can be hard to find. But when I offered to plug in the GPS, my friends scoffed at me. “The GPS won’t work out here!” they yelled, from the backseat. “We’ll never get there if we use the GPS!”

You know what we used instead?

A big paper map.

It was old-fashioned, almost anachronistic.

But it got the job done.

Foss Forward makes a weekly appearance in print, in The Gazette’s Saturday Lifestyles section. You can email Sara at sfoss@dailygazette.net.

 
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