Time to push back against GPS voices

I’ve been on the interstate a little more than usual lately, headed to places known and unknown. It used to be that when I was headed off to a new place, I’d print off maps and directions from the Internet and make sure my trusty old U.S. atlas was still in my car for further checking.

Now, thanks to my nifty GPS navigation system, I just hop in my car and go. I’ve had the GPS for three years, and I can no longer tell you where my old atlas is.

The GPS is like a road buddy. It talks to me in any manner of voice I choose, from a chipmunk or zombie to a voice courting me like a sly guy with a cute English accent. Just with the push of a button. When it’s just me and the car, that guiding voice is both comforting and annoying — especially when I need to take a detour for gas.

“Hold on, I’ll get us out of here,” it says, over and over and OVER again.

Finally, I’ll shut the thing off and turn it back on once I’m back on the GPS’ chosen route.

But before I shut if off, I take note of the small box in the right-hand corner — the estimated time of arrival.

My GPS tells me all sorts of things, from estimated gas mileage and where my next turn is to my speed versus posted speed limits. But all I seem to ever really care about is that ETA posting.

It’s a race against time.

There’s nothing I love more than to watch the minutes of my estimated time of arrival tick down. It’s almost like a contest I can win, and therefore, an adrenaline rush. In an average two- or threehour trip, I can usually guarantee that if I make no stops, I can shave 10 minutes off my trip by the time I reach my destination — according to my GPS.

I’ve tried to tell myself that none of this really matters, that clocking an extra 5 mph on the speedometer is gaining me little and possibly only decreasing my gas mileage, that I really have no idea how the GPS measures such things, so why should I care?

But when that little digital reading is ticking away, I can’t control myself.

The worst was on Friday, as I drove to Omaha to pick up my mother-in-law from the airport.

When I got in my car, the reading said I’d get to the airport around 3:10. That was definitely not going to be good enough since her plane landed at 3:05.

I was immediately overtaken by the feeling of needing to hurry.

By Lincoln, since traffic on the interstate had been very light, I had managed to “earn” seven minutes. I decided that was enough time to allow myself a restroom break. Yes, this obsession with the ETA on my GPS has gotten so bad, I felt I had to “earn” a restroom break.

It was at that moment when I realized that little machine was dictating my life a little more than I was comfortable with. So when I pulled off the interstate and that annoying squirrel voice told me he’d “get us out of here,” I shut it off.

And it stayed off until I was within the confines of Omaha, wondering which exit I was supposed to take. Traffic had increased at least fourfold, so I turned it back on and let it guide me to Eppley Airfield.

Once I managed to get my car parked, it was 3:10, just as it stated at the beginning of my trip. I’m sure my GPS didn’t take into account driving around a full parking garage trying to find a space. I rushed into the airport, only to find that my mother-in-law’s plane was delayed until 3:35.

Hmm. Had I used the Internet to print a map, I might have thought to check the status of her flight and wouldn’t have been in such a hurry.

Then again, I was using the GPS, so I would’ve been racing against time, anyway.

I think I learned a lesson, though. When my husband called to ask what time I thought we’d be home, I turned on the GPS and saw my ETA as 6:53.

“I’ll be home at 7,” I said.

And I promptly turned the GPS off.

Those seven minutes don’t really matter unless you can see them and are reminded of them. And you can’t really see time, right?

Deann Stumpe

In her weekly column that runs Mondays in the Hastings Tribune, Deann Stumpe gabs about relationships, movies and TV, and life with a baby. She is the Tribune’s special sections editor.

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