Saturday, June 23, 2012

GPS


Just a couple of days ago, I went on a mini road trip. The really fantastic thing about starting off in Belgium is that the neighboring countries are less than two hours away by car; so you can visit so many various places on a very short time span. Thus, this is exactly what I had in mind as I went off to visit Luxembourg, France and Germany -- all in all, my road trip consisted of  four countries in just four days. Though I only had the chance to see the cities close to the borders (i.e. Luxembourg, Strasbourg and Trier), there were a few intriguing discoveries. For one, I was amazed at how borders could be so bleary and yet very distinct at the exact same time. How silly this may sound, it seemed as if only a sign board separates these countries (thank you, Schengen!) and then, simultaneously, I could visualize that imaginary line unmistakably -- especially in respect to these towns near the borderline. Of course, there are clear differences between all countries; but it was funny to see, for instance, how tiny Luxembourg is highly influenced by its neighbors -- by their language alone. As a speaker of both German and French, it was astonishing for me to find out how well I could also understand some Luxembourgish, one of their official languages. I really felt like there were more Germans in Strasbourg than French citizens (but there is a long history behind it, after all) and I knew exactly when I were crossing the German border simply by looking at the break in landscape. Even though the ride was intensely tiring, it was a pretty fruitful experience to examine the little similarities and differences between Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and France.

One of the other perks of these four days was undoubtedly the traveling part itself. As the popular statement beckons, " it is the journey, not the destination" that often matters more. And like anyone going on a road trip in these modern times, we used a GPS to get around more easily. One must admit that it is quite the terrific invention. You simply type an address or a standpoint and after just a few seconds (do let it calculate!), you  need but to listen to the nice lady's instructions and just mind the road until you reach the destination. If you are one of the very lucky ones, your GPS will even tell you where there will be traffic and whatnot. Indeed, the GPS has made traveling pretty much effortless.  Or... has it really?!

Of course it has. But, as it always is with my viewpoint on modern inventions and times, I remain ever critical of them. Do not get me wrong, getting places was truly not a hassle thanks to the GPS, but I am still a unfold-the-huge-map and look-at-the-road type of co-pilot. We reached our destinations long before GPS were a commodity and I reckon it is still more fun finding your way relying on your instincts and/or asking nice people on the street for direction when in need. Moreover, getting lost is also a great part of the fun. Thus, my point was proven when the road was blocked when we crossed the border on the way to Trier, Germany. Evidently, the GPS could not predict that the road was under construction and kept on claiming "Recalculating! Recalculating! Recalculating!" as we missed the correct route. No offense to the the GPS' soothing voice, but she needed to keep quiet lest she wanted to be thrown out of the window. We were in a bit of pickle since the sign board might have informed us that the highway leading to Trier was blocked, but it surely did not help not giving us any alternative. Just drive, and we'll see, I thought.        

What really puzzled me was that my companions were completely lost due to the inefficiency of the GPS, still looking at it constantly in the hope of finding a quick answer. We were completely lost, indeed, but I brought to their attention that it was no use to depend on it since it kept bringing us back to the route that was blocked.  Of course it was not the machine's fault -- it does calculate (and will keep recalculating) the fastest route to the destination -- but I could not believe how the task appeared to have become so improbable without the proper instructions of a GPS. I knew we were going to find a solution if we simply chose to look at what's in front of us instead of still counting on the now-useless GPS. So, much to their panic, I turned it off and went old-school on finding the right path. We drove around for a while until eventually, we found  Trier with just a little delay. Finally, much to their relief, I switched on the GPS again.    

This episode got me into thinking about the (non)-importance of a GPS on the road. Once more, this electronic device must be regarded as one of the most practical inventions. However, as wonderful as it is, a GPS obviously remains a machine that might sometimes fail and leave us hanging. After this incident, I could not help but realize how dependent we had become: not only on such a device per se, but how we have grown to love "easy" instructions. In truth, driving i.e. getting to a destination might have become less hectic thanks to this wonderful machine, but it has also turned even the best drivers into panicked ones once instructions fail.  Let us be honest -- GPS have made us lazy drivers, it has made us not really think about or look at the actual road, it has made us lethargic followers. With a GPS, it seems like it is the destination, not the journey that matters more... because the journey itself simply implies "following instructions" these days.

If we carefully think about it, this GPS device does not only apply to the road -- but we are all equipped with one on this journey called life as well. In fact, we can argue that society provides us with its very own kind of GPS: rules, definitions, processes, beliefs, influences, every little how-to thing.  What is happiness, what is success, what is love, and what is the norm are dictated to us. Like typing a specific address on the GPS, many destinations in life are predetermined and we just rely on instructions to reach them -- hopefully the fastest way possible. Gladly so, in most cases: it does help to have some sort of guideline (and guidance) in life. But then again, irony kicks in because we are  perpetually pushed to believe that the way is our own today; yet it often does not seem to be the case. How often did we choose a road simply because we were instructed -- expected -- to?  Aren't there situations when we feel like we are living up to standards that are not necessarily our own? We are all dreamers but aren't we sometimes taught how to dream them? Consequently, aren't we just following the path instead of our own? Positively, many of us blindly depend on others' instructions when it comes to getting somewhere.

It is much easier to arrive at a destination with the help of a GPS -- on the road and in life. More appropriately, a GPS also defines what it thinks is the best road to take. But like the actual machine we use on trips in these modern times, it will sometimes fail and leave us hanging. And when guidelines and/or the road get blocked, many of us enter a state of panic right away -- not because we have become so dependent on instructions, but because we have grown to love preempted ones. Instead, we should not accept being or becoming lethargic followers. To find our way, we must keep our eyes on the road and not simply rely on the one that is handed to us. Ultimately, let us remain old-school when it comes to getting to a destination in life: though we might get lost and will reach that certain place with delay, one must admit it is more fun to be a decipher-the-map kind of person -- in the end, isn't that what makes "the journey, not the destination" truthfully a reputed statement to begin with? Lest we forget, a GPS is just a device that shows the road, but not necessarily the way.

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