THE VALUE OF READING AHEAD: Google Maps may just want to kill you, or least divert your course – whichever comes first
Long have I been a user of digital maps and machine-created driving directions. That desire to spurn traditional maps and directions has sometimes come at a cost. I recall a meeting that I was supposed to attend in a nearby city but nevertheless an area that I had never been to. The year was 1997, Google Maps would not yet exist for another 8 years, so the one and only solution was MapQuest. I had been using the MapQuest service for almost a year (they went online in 1996 – what can I say, I’m an early adopter), and had little difficulty. However, this time it was an important meeting, I had left plenty of time to travel to my destination, and all was going swimmingly until I was driving down a motorway that was supposed to connect to another motorway… it didn’t. I drove back and forth in vain, assuming I had missed the turn-off, and was forced to call the individual I was meeting to tell him I was lost and that my directions were bad (cue the embarrassment). I did show my MapQuest print-out to the individual when I arrived, but at that point I was 30 minutes late, and we needed to get to work. The lesson: check and double-check the electronic directions if it’s going to be an important meeting.
Flash forward to 2008 and Google Maps is where it’s at! With the ability to examine satellite photos of the area in question you can make sure those two motorways actually intersect, and with Street View you can even see where the front-door of the building and nearby parking facilities are before you ever set foot in your car. That said, it still seems that there is value to carefully reading those directions before you head out the door. A few weeks ago I was making a long road trip, one that I had made before, but several years before. I quickly glanced the first page of the Google Maps print-out and it matched up with what I remembered.
After about five hours on the road I flipped pages and noticed that the upcoming directions were putting me onto a number of very small road, with significantly lower speed limits, few amenities, and impassable traffic. But why? Well it turns out that that was the most direct route between the motorway that I was on, and the next motorway that I wanted to get to… yet if I had taken a different path I could have avoided that hodge-podge of roads altogether, but it was too late and too far away to turn around. To add to the misery, torrential rain started pouring down just as I entered the small roads where I would spend the two hours stuck in heavy traffic, poor visibility, and a dearth of fuel stations despite a nearly empty tank!
A few days later I was surfing the interwebs as I usually do and came across this cartoon which made me laugh. So I’ve included it here for your enjoyment …and remember kids, read those directions carefully, especially pages two and three
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