A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Beth Underwood: When technology fails, it’s good to know there are still decent people to point the way

Last week I brought you the tale of our first road trip to my daughter and son-in-law’s home in Tall Timbers, Maryland. As you’ll recall, we made the trip old school, relying on paper maps to lead the way. Off we went, through the backroads of Virginia and Maryland, the hills and valleys and horse farms and civil war battlefields.

In other words, we took the long way. The really long way. The “I think we may be lost” way. And not on purpose. What should have taken about 10 hours took closer to 14.

And somewhere at our most-lost point, the dog started whining and the low tire pressure light came on, cautioning that I needed to come to a complete stop immediately if not sooner. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there aren’t a lot of places to pull over when you’re in the middle of nowhere.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with the scenic route. But sometimes you just want to get to where you’re going. Sometimes, you just want a straight shot from where you are to where you want to be. Smooth sailing, if you will.

That’s why I Google’d the directions prior to this year’s trip.

According to Google — and Google knows everything, right? — the 960-mile trip would be a three-step process that would take just over nine and a quarter hours.

Easy peasy. My kind of directions.

Except that Google missed a step about eight hours in — arguably the most crucial of them all. Because we were getting close to our destination and were sick and tired of being in the car.

By the time I realized what had happened, we were about 25 minutes into the wrong direction. The dog was whining (again), the gas tank was on empty, and Colton and I were having traumatic flashbacks to last year’s trip. And oh, by the way, Google knows nothing.

There was only one thing left to do. Since I had to stop for gas anyway, I’d ask for directions.
Turns out, people love giving directions — probably because they’re seldom asked to do so these days. In all, about five people got involved in the how-to-get-there-from-here process. It was great except when they talked over each other. Luckily they were able to reach a consensus on the way forward, and we arrived at my daughter’s house within a couple of hours — an hour faster than Google’s ETA.

Thanks a lot, Google.

As I thought back on this year’s drive, I realized the stop at the gas station offered more than directions. It was a reminder that technology is fallible just like people. Unlike technology though, most of us are happy to help a stranger along the way, to offer a smile and encourage their fellow man — or in our case, a mom, a teenager, and a dog.

And that’s something technology will never be able to compete with.

Beth Underwood is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in numerous newspapers and magazines. She shares stories of everyday life that entertain, inspire, and encourage others. Her books include Gravity, a narrative nonfiction account of a small group of Tennessee National Guardsmen, and Talk Bourbon to Me, a lighthearted look at Kentucky’s native spirit. Drop her a line at beth@bethwrightunderwood.com, or visit her website at bethwrightunderwood.com.

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