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Smell the Coffee: Can't make your own decisions?

By Karin Fuller

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I'm a lover of travel who seldom gets to be on the road. I dream about travel and write about road trips and study maps to find potential destinations within a few hours of home, but lately, no amount of desire can deter our house and car from their competition to be Champion of Deterioration, so there have been no vacations for us.

And so I remained quiet while my dinner companions recently talked about their vacations and their beloved GPS devices. They raved over how much better their trips were, thanks to the apparatus; how they could relax while driving, waiting for the machine's next instruction; could press a button and locate the next rest area; could access an app recommending restaurants or another that reviewed potential sites in the area.

There was something about their cherished devices that didn't completely sit well with me, but I couldn't pinpoint what it was. Later, I was mulling it over, wondering if perhaps it was simply that GPS units make having a good sense of direction seem suddenly superfluous. I'd always been proud of my ability to find my way around, even in unfamiliar territory, but that seems to have gone from being a blessing to being something as outdated as a mullet.

It was right about this time in my thoughts that there came a commercial for a smartphone app that uses location-awareness technology to give users the ability to instantly access reviews for restaurants, stores, attractions and businesses of all sorts. The commercial said something like, "If you're walking at a park and come to a landmark, the phone can automatically display information that tells you why you should find the site interesting." And that's when it clicked.

These devices -- along with the abundance of reviews on articles and products and restaurants and, well, everything -- are robbing us of the fun of discovering something new and wonderful on our own. The app is going to tell us why the site is interesting because -- what? We can't decide that for ourselves?

Instead of developing our own skills and decision-making abilities, it seems as though we're being steered toward becoming more dependent on others, electronic devices included. People are often lazy and clueless enough without gadgets enabling them to be even more impaired.

How often do we hear about folks being stranded in remote locations because they trusted their GPS units more than their own common sense? You'd think that when the paved road turns to gravel then to mud, their own personal wrong-way warning system should engage.

A bit of blundering about isn't so bad. Sometimes that's how you find the best places, learn new things. Earn self-respect.

Basing most every choice based on someone else's review in an effort to avoid the bad stuff -- that isn't savvy or clever. It's lazy. Sheeplike. Better to experience on your own and decide for yourself. You can't appreciate the good unless you experience some bad. And the bad? That's usually where the best stories begin.

Perhaps if I traveled more often, I might feel differently about GPS units and smartphones. They're certainly useful and impressive and perhaps, sometimes, even life saving. I can imagine what a blessing they are to the directionally challenged. But they should be tools, not crutches. These things should help us, not think or decide for us.

Perhaps if I had a job where I traveled on a regular basis or if I had to venture about in a big city, safety alone would be reason for having one. But for me and for now, I'm glad there's no need. I don't want someone -- or something -- holding my hand everywhere I go.

Not all who wander are lost.

Reach Karin Fuller via email at karinfuller@gmail.com.


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