Recently Tim O’Reilly wrote about how using maps on his phone, and assuming they’d work where he was going, got him into trouble on a recent road trip:
It was a beautiful late spring day towards the end of May, hot even, so the last thing I was thinking about was the possibility that Sierra passes might still be closed. So I was quite surprised to find a sign that the road ahead was closed in 5 miles. I’d have to turn around and retrace my path for over 80 miles.
Now right away, I felt rather betrayed by Google Maps. (Bing Maps was no better.) After all, if the relatively small number of Sierra passes are closed for extended periods of time, how hard would it be to detect that fact and automatically deliver only a working route? Instead, Google provided only a small disclaimer (and one that appears only just before the failed step in the route), that the road ahead “might” be closed. Unless I read the entire list of directions carefully, I wouldn’t see the warning till just about the point where I saw it on a road sign! (read full article here)
There’s an old story in here about the double edged sword of technology. I left the following comment:
In Plato’s Phaedrus, there’s a story about King Thamus debating the pros and cons of writing *as a technology* – he feels people will remember less and therefore think less, and the downsides of writing outweigh the benefits.
Its inescapable that each layer of technology we use demands a quiet trade of convenience for dependence, and we’re unlikely to notice until its too late to recover. Printed maps work great too until you realize the map is simply wrong (it happens), or doesn’t provide enough detail to be of use. All technologies have limits, you just don’t notice them unless you’re poking at the boundaries of things.
The sensible survivalists talk about contingency – anything you depend on should be within your power to obtain through multiple means. And it seems that’s good advice for anyone traveling. Most people who get into trouble when venturing forth are underprepared – what’s fascinating is how the convenience of technology has made us comfortable doing many things without any preparation at all.
There’s a similar article about tourists getting into trouble in Death Valley because of GPS.