Getting lost with Google Maps

Through the lens, lightly

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Sushmita Bose

Published: Thu 23 Jun 2022, 5:06 PM

I can hear the GPS navigator voiceover — the lady with the weird accent — leading the cabbie down the garden path: “Turn right, turn right”, she’s egging him on, peremptorily, her voice getting shriller and shriller by the moment (or maybe I’m imagining it’s getting shriller).

“Go straight, go straight,” I’m trying to make my voice being heard above the weirdly-accented din.

And the driver’s hyperventilating. “The map is showing right, the voice is saying right, but you are saying straight…” he begins, looking visibly stressed, even through his mask.

“I know more than the map, I happen to live here, just go straight,” I snapped. “Can you switch off the GPS please?”

I didn’t add, much as I’d have like to: “And drive like a human being and not some on-command robot!”

Google Maps has exponentially increased the scope of navigational talk time with drivers. I love talking to cabbies otherwise, they tell me fascinating stories about their lives and Indo-Pak politics and even recommend names of serials, but I don’t want to discuss directions with them. And I don’t want to be on tenterhooks each time they switch on the voluble GPS because I know if I take my own eyes off that damn screen for a second, we will be guided down some scenic route. Once I tried to tell a cabbie to take a much shorter route (instead of the incredibly complicated one he was being prodded on to take), one that I knew like the back of my hand, but he would not budge. “There’s a jam on that route,” he protested. “I’m seeing a red stretch.”

“That’s because there’s a red light.”

“No, I will not take that route.”

“I insist you do.”

He glared at me and took “my” route. We sailed through.

I have, on occasion, checked out the location of a place on Maps — just to get an idea of how far it is, and maybe figure out the best possible interface. “You don’t drive,” others point out. True that. But I really don’t believe a strange voice telling me “go straight, and then go straight, and go straight” will not psyche me out if I ever got behind the wheel myself. Stay left, stay left, the Maps’ lady says, and then suddenly screeches “turn right”. How are you supposed to take a right turn on a road, at a moment’s notice, when you’ve been sticking to the left?

Sometime back, a colleague was ‘re-parking’ her car. From front to back. You need to circumnavigate your way around the building — no ways about it. Imagine my distress when I saw she was switching on Google Maps.

“Why do you need Google Maps to take you from one side of a building to another?”

“I can’t drive without Google Maps on,” she said defensively. “It’s a reflex action.”

Then, last weekend, me and two of my girl pals decided to go out for lunch. After much deliberation, a venue was zeroed in on. As it turned out, it was right next to where I live. The other two started behaving like they’d never heard of this “area”, and kept repeating “… but where is it exactly?”

No amount of explaining, including “It’s in the block next to where I live”, cut the mustard.

“Where do you live? We don’t know where you live, we always put on Google Maps to reach your place…” was the response. “Drop the location puhleeeeez.”

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