[This originally ran May 25 of last year.]

Paraphrasing your mother, if your GPS told you to drive into a lake, would you? A woman in Bellevue, Washington, did when commanded to turn. Then there were the Japanese tourists in Australia who drove into the ocean trying to reach an island from the mainland. These wrong turns didn’t result in fatalities, but some do.

Author Greg Milner has a forthcoming book about GPS titled “Pinpoint.” An excerpt, courtesy of the Ars Technica website: “The park rangers at Death Valley National Park in California call it ‘death by GPS.’ It describes what happens when your GPS fails you, not by being wrong, exactly, but often by being too right. It does such a good job of computing the most direct route from Point A to Point B that it takes you down roads which barely exist, or were used at one time and abandoned, or are not suitable for your car, or which require all kinds of local knowledge that would make you aware that making that turn is bad news.”

Trying to determine what these hypnotized drivers might be thinking, Cornell University researchers found that “the process of interpreting the world, adding value to it, and turning space into place is reduced to a certain extent and drivers remain detached from the indifferent environments that surround them.” Bottom line: “GPS eliminated much of the need to pay attention.” As these devices become more ubiquitous, pray for other cars on the road.

Being a man, my personal assistant can read a map and has little use for GPS. But he still gets in trouble now and then. Like that time at Spring Training when he was correcting a wrong turn and wound up bickering with my other assistant like Tarzan and Jane in the GEICO commercial.

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