The meme is out there that the Internet is making humans dumber. I am not entirely sure. I think the Internet is, in fact, revealing just how dumb most members of our species already were — but until now, they were able to cover it up. The prime example of this is the use and abuse of Global Positioning System programs (sorry, kids, but when I was learning to code, they were called programs not apps — but hey, I was learning Fortran, which you will have to Google).
A recent example of this came from Europe, where a radio station organized a skiing trip from Belgium to La Plagne in France near the Swiss and Italian borders. It sounds simple enough. There you are in Belgium, and you punch in La Plagne, France, and off you go. Turn here, change lanes and exit there — easy. And of course, that isn’t what happened.
The driver wound up explaining to Studio Brussels, the youth channel of the Flemish language public broadcaster VRT, “There are three entries for La Plagne in France, and I selected the wrong one.” The wrong one is closer to the Pyrenees than the Alps, some 400 miles southwest of the ski resort the bus was supposed to go to.
“We had a hard time convincing the driver he was going to Spain and had a few laughs,” passenger Sven Ceuppens told the BBC. “It was a sleeper bus, so when I woke up at first light, all I saw were vineyards. Nice, but very uncommon if you want to ski. Immediately we knew something was wrong, but it took a map of France to convince the driver to distrust the GPS.”
Frankly, the fault lies with the French because who needs three places with the same name? And besides, I give the driver credit for being convinced by the map. It shows an openness of mind and a willingness to question that damned voice from the GPS that some simply haven’t got.
For instance, Sabine Moreau, a 67-year-old Belgian woman (OK, maybe it’s the Belgian ale at work) was going to pick up a friend at the train station in Brussels, 93 miles from her home. Right there, I figure there’s something wrong. Europe has great trains, and I can’t believe there wasn’t a closer station, so the friend takes some blame here. Anyway, the old dear turned on the GPS and followed its instructions, for 900 miles — all the way to Zagreb, Croatia. Her explanation? “I was distracted, so I kept driving. I saw all kinds of traffic signs, first in French, then German and finally in Croatian, but I kept driving because I was distracted. Suddenly I appeared in Zagreb and I realized I wasn’t in Belgium anymore.” No
Dorothy Sabine, you weren’t in Kansas Belgium anymore.
Yet that is even mild because there were roads all the way, and the nice voice was giving directions. Compare that to one idiot on the Upper West Side of Manhattan who wanted to go to New Jersey. Around West 88th Street, the GPS told him to head west, and he did — right down the stairs leading to Riverside Park. When there isn’t any road, don’t you think you should ignore the instructions telling you to turn?
Apparently not in the case of a woman in Uxbridge, Mass., who drove her car into a sand trap on a golf course. Patricia A. Maione, “stated that her GPS had told her to turn left. She stated that this left brought her into a ‘cornfield’ and once she was in the ‘cornfield’ she kept driving trying to get out of her ‘cornfield.’ ” While the police were helping her out of the bunker, they did detect a strong smell of alcohol.
Robert Ziegler can’t blame the booze for his GPS mistake. He found himself stuck up a mountain outside Bergun, Switzerland, after listening to that damned voice. “I was lost and I kept hoping that each little turn would get me back to the main road. In the end it told me to turn around but of course I couldn’t by then,” the driver told police. A fire brigade spokesman explained: “He claims he didn’t see any footpath signs but he must have been a pretty fair driver to get that far up a glorified goat track.” Ziegler managed to call for help on his cellphone, and he was helicoptered to safety along with his van.
Even that was better than the experience of Yuzu Noda, a Japanese tourist driving a rental car in Australia. She and two friends were headed to North Stradbroke Island off the Aussie coast, and the GPS didn’t allow for the nine miles of water and mud that prevents it from being North Stradbroke Peninsula. “It told us we could drive down there. It kept saying it would navigate us to a road. We got stuck … there’s lots of mud.” After 50 yards, they were stuck. After they were towed out, Noda told the Bayside Bulletin, “We want to come back to Australia again. Everyone is very nice, even today.” Yep, when you have a story like that for the pub after work, it’s hard not to be nice.
Jeff Myhre is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.