A few years ago my neighbors S&L invited some friends to come visit their desert place. The friends refused the necessary detailed driving instructions – “Just give us your coordinates, and our GPS will guide us in.” I remarked that this would not work; S said he’d told his friends the same, but that they’d insisted. They never did arrive, though I understand the worst they suffered was frustration.
Here’s a long article on the phenomenon of drivers actually following GPS instructions with the potential to kill them…
Most death-by-GPS incidents do not involve actual deaths—or even serious injuries. They are accidents or accidental journeys brought about by an uncritical acceptance of turn-by-turn commands: the Japanese tourists in Australia who drove their car into the ocean while attempting to reach North Stradbroke Island from the mainland; the man who drove his BMW down a narrow path in a village in Yorkshire, England, and nearly over a cliff; the woman in Bellevue, Washington, who drove her car into a lake that their GPS said was a road; the Swedish couple who asked GPS to guide them to the Mediterranean island of Capri, but instead arrived at the Italian industrial town of Carpi; the elderly woman in Belgium who tried to use GPS to guide her to her home, 90 miles away, but instead drove hundreds of miles to Zagreb, only realizing her mistake when she noticed the street signs were in Croatian.
It’s easy to laugh, but these stories also inevitably contain a heaping helping of “WTF?” All you’ve got to do is look out your window, dude. That’s an ocean. Why do people do this?
Funnily enough it seems academics have also asked that question, and they have access to grant funds. At this point the article turns rather tedious as it actually tries to explain why people do this. But several detailed studies all seem to boil down to the same nonsense answer:
“GPS eliminated much of the need to pay attention.”
Well, but…no, it didn’t. Did it?
Preppers and survivalists go on and on about ‘situational awareness,’ and I try not to preach because I’m truly the worst: I have walked into trees while watching my footing. But this is something more than that. People really do seem to have a capacity for turning all the decisions over to any agency that promises to do their thinking for them. Sometimes even a machine.
For their part, the victims often couch their experiences in language that attributes to GPS a peculiar sort of agency. GPS “told us we could drive down there,” one of the Japanese tourists explained. “It kept saying it would navigate us a road.” The BMW driver echoed these words, almost verbatim: “It kept insisting the path was a road.”
And that’s the great danger. Never turn your thinking over to somebody – or something – else. That way lies a cliff.