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Crookston Times - Crookston, MN
  • My solitary journey, with only Greta to keep me company

  • Conversation was pretty one-sided, however.


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  • There are certain tenets that our life here on earth seem to be built on. There's love, of course, which unfortunately sometimes goes hand in hand with hate. There's courage, respect, fear, anger, grace, hope...you know, pretty hefty stuff.
     
        So where does trust fit into all that?
     
        Ripping on technology and how it's permeating every facet of our society like never before is a popular pastime these days. Typically, when it comes to this finger-pointing, it's the older generation wondering what awful things are becoming of the next generation, the members of which don't bother to look up long enough from their smart phones to even notice the gnarled, wrinkly fingers pointed at them.
     
        All this technology makes it fun every now and then to do a little time-warp check-in. No passing of the torch from one generation to the next has probably ever been immune from such comparisons, but it seems especially telling these days to point out that today's teens have never known a world without the Internet, or cell phones, or satellite TV.
     
        Or GPS. That's Global Positioning Systems for those not into acronyms. GPS is fairly ubiquitous these days, but it's possible for many people to exist sufficiently for quite some time without a GPS device in their vehicle or smart phone that uses satellite-guided data to help you get from Point A to Point B.
     
        But there are those among us, of course, who would just as soon throw their GPS device out the window than accept any directional help from a monotone, computer-voiced woman.
     
        I don't know where I fell in that category a few weeks ago, as I prepared to embark on a trip to a handful of newspapers in southern Minnesota. But when told by the rental car company that I could rent a Garmin GPS for ten bucks a day, I found myself jumping at the opportunity.
     
        I named my Garmin "Greta." Even if our conversations over the many hours alone on the road would eventually prove to be relatively one-sided, with me ranting and raving over endless, complicated construction detours and county roads that didn't exist, and her every reply as  short and sweet as flour, "Recalculating,"  she still needed a name.
     
        I came home a more trusting person. No, not of anyone else, but a person who trusts more in himself.
     
        It kind of goes with the bashing-technology territory to claim that all this technology is becoming so much a part of us that we inevitably become less of ourselves. We slowly become defined not by who we love or hate, or what makes us courageous or scared, or respectful or rude, but by the technology that's glued to our hands, or clipped to our belt, or covering our ears.
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        The concept of a GPS unit in your vehicle plays into that notion. What about a good old-fashioned map that takes seconds to unfold, but that your great-great-great-grandchild will die still trying to properly fold back up? What about using your old-fashioned smarts and guile?
     
        Why trust a GPS device with an anonymous voice that possesses a limited vocabulary, when the human brain is one of the most capable, melon-sized mounds of gray mush in the history of life itself?
     
        I didn't know much about how GPS devices worked. Would Greta know that Highway 59 detoured in Morris, and that it was a whopper of a detour? When I followed the detour and Greta uttered "Recalculating" for the first of what would end up being 37,159 times over the next three days, I learned that she was oblivious to the summer construction season in Minnesota.
     
        I actually drove through a town called Clontarf. It sounded like a word my sons or I would blurt out when we play a game on the road that involves reciting every word, often in hilarious fashion, that we see on various signs backwards. Somehow, a town called “Fratnolc” made more sense to me at that moment.
     
        But I followed the detours. I trusted MnDOT, I guess you could say. I trusted my fellow man, too, when I actually stopped at a gas station to ask three good old boys sipping coffee and shootin' the you-know-what which was the quickest way to Redwood Falls.
     
        And on the way home, with scribbled directions that incorporated an insider’s knowledge of every gravel and/or minimum-maintenance road in a four-county region of southern Minnesota – the publisher at one of the newspapers I visited would rather have been struck dead by lightning on the spot than have me deal with that Highway 59 detour on my drive back to Crookston – I trusted myself.
     
        I trusted myself, even as I swear I detected Greta raise her voice a little with her 316th "Recalculating" of the morning. I trusted myself, even when the little screen on Greta's front appeared to depict me plowing through a field because she knew of no road at that specific geographic, satellite-guided point of reference.
     
        When I saw the sign indicating I was a couple short miles from I-94, I severed the cord.?I shut Greta off. I?was home free.
     
        For 30 bucks, even though she wasn’t exactly personality plus, Greta was worth every penny. But not necessarily because of her navigation skills.

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