Forget the GPS, all I need is Siri

Friday, June 10th, 2016

Pricey technology be damned with a pair of headphones and an iPod leading the way

David Booth
The Province

It’s no mystery why our lives are too complicated. The problem is, like so many of our problems, we bring this complication on ourselves.

For instance, why do we need the bazillion types, sizes, flavours and chemical formulations of toothpaste that now take up a whole row of shelves at my local Shoppers Drug Mart? What does it say about our organizational skills that we create endless email chains when a simple two-minute phone call can resolve pretty much any issue?

And why, when presented with a technological problem, do we always seem to insist on the most complicated solution, when our brains are seemingly hardwired — see Occam’s razor — to seek out the simplest solution?

I stumbled on this revelation by accident. And by accident I mean because I’m a cheap bastard. Since the purchase of my new-to-me 2002 Suzuki V-Strom — henceforth to be known as the ugliest motorcycle ever invented — I’ve been riding more. Hence, thanks to a complete and utter lack of geographic skills, I’ve been getting lost more. A lot more.

I did a lot of research. Obviously, I needed something top of the line and state of the art. You “complexifiers” — defined by Scott Berkun, author of The Myths of Innovation, as someone who “takes pride in consuming more bandwidth, time and patience than needed and expects rewards for it” — know what I am talking about. My first instinct was to pony up for a bucks-up motorcycle-enabled Garmin navigation system with Bluetooth connections, XM traffic updates and new technology called Garmin Adventurous Routing.

But I really am cheap. And the Garmin — once you throw in mounts, power cords and all the other options that electronic gizmos come with these days — tops out at about $1,000, approximately a quarter of what I paid for the aforementioned ugliest motorcycle in the world. So I did what any indeterminately frugal Scrooge would do: I fit some earphones under my helmet, plugged them into my iPhone and had Siri fix the whole situation.

At first, I thought this would be merely a stopgap solution until I got up the courage to fork over the big bucks for a Zumo 395LM (my Garmin of choice). Indeed, absent visual cues, how was one supposed to navigate? Wouldn’t that be a little like trying to drive with your eyes closed? How could I possibly navigate without visual confirmation of the audible instructions being piped, seemingly randomly, into my helmet?

Very well, as it turns out. In fact, I’ve been two-wheel navigating all over North America and Europe, trusting in nothing but Siri for a year and — in complete contradistinction to my experience with automotive GPS systems — have not been lost once.

The question is why? Why was I better informed with less information? How can it be that visual cues are actually detrimental to a task that seems so, well, visual?

The best answer I can come up with is because it’s simple. And by simple, what I mean is that by being forced to rely only on audible cues, I can’t — like all skeptical humans are wont to do — secondguess the system. Indeed, when I actually focused on why I was getting lost using visually enhanced automotive systems, it was because I was continually using the digital map to anticipate what she — and isn’t it interesting that all GPS systems use a female “navigator” — meant by her latest instruction. “Does she mean this turn?” or “Is it this street or is it the next one?” and “Crap, she wanted me to turn there?” are the constant refrains of a human trying to prove superior over technology by secondguessing its instruction.

I proved this — at least to myself — by testing Siri in a car. Thinking that it was simply Apple’s superior mapping, I mounted my iPhone on the dashboard and started following the map app visually. And promptly got lost. Finally cluing in — as William of Ockham said, “Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected” — I put my iPhone in my pocket. Presto, change-o! No more getting lost on the way to the corner store.

It was only then that I realized I was trying to out-think technology rather than use it. Forced to do without visual cues, I had no choice other than to simply wait for Siri’s audible commands, no misguided anticipation possible or permissible. How can one, after all, challenge what one cannot see?

At first, it was more than a little disconcerting. Siri’s calming voice would abandon me for hours at a time. Unlike so many automotive GPS systems, if she had no direction changes to make, she remained silent. I’d be certain that my iPhone had run out of battery power, that the headphones had become disconnected or, worse yet, that Siri had somehow abandoned me. I’d stop by the side of the road, doff my helmet, take off my gloves, dig my phone out from underneath three layers of thermal and waterproof Gore-Tex only to find that … I was still on my chosen path.

Bit by bit, I got used to her silence. I came to the realization that she wouldn’t tell me anything I didn’t need to know and, more importantly, that all the things she wasn’t telling me I really didn’t need to know. We reached an understanding: I wouldn’t worry about where I was going as long as she never steered me wrong. Twelve months later, I have yet to rescind that agreement.

I now use my iPhone even in cars with supposedly state-of-the-art navigation systems. And I never look at the screen.

© 2016 Postmedia Network Inc

Comments are closed.