Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Miles to go before I sleep...

So I'm returning this evening after a rather disappointing foray out into the city--the city being in this case Arlington, VA by way of DC, and frankly there's nothing I hate more in the world of driving than adventures through that particular area. I was intending to attend a talk on Usability standards, but ended up spending about an extra hour on the drive and getting lost. When it got to the point where the talk would have been half over, I surrendered and drove home. All in all not a profitable evening. My technology failed me, first through its absence: for journeys like this I usually borrow my boyfriend's GPS, this time I didn't manage to acquire it. Even worse, the Mapquest directions I copied down [the printer in the new apartment isn't connected yet] were vague and unhelpful, leaving me to spend my time looping back and forth from 50 to Arlington Blvd to 395 to Washington Blvd to Ridge Rd and so on. I'm now very familiar with the names of roads in that area, though I still can't tell you where that lecture was held.

So I'm afraid I don't have any insights on usability to post tonight. Instead, I'd like to muse a bit about a sense of direction. I am well known for not having one: give me an inch, and I'll end up in the wrong state. Missing this lecture is just the latest in an ongoing series of navigational mistakes that have defined my life. Technology has yet to fix that for me. Nothing short of a GPS shouting "Recalculating" at me over and over again can keep me on a proper route--MapQuest and GooogleMaps are just placeholders, digital versions of an old trick. I remember when I was younger and every year for Christmas my family took a drive down to Florida. Before we left, I'd go with my mother to the AAA where we got a TripTik. For those of you unfamiliar, a TripTik is a bound roadmap for a journey that moves from map to map that one of the specialists at AAA creates based on your itinerary. This is old school MapQuest: they even mark construction and similar concerns and give you a "best route" of sorts. On that long drive to Disney I used to look at it and try to visualize how many hours of books on tape each page of miles represented.

Now MapQuest can bring all this up for you instantly on demand and give a guess as to how long the trip will take you, but it still doesn't take into account all the variables en route. I'd like to be able to input my actual travel times into Mapquest and get something back from it, have it improve its estimates based on reality and not its idealized system--all its estimates of travel time to and from DC would certainly change once the reality of the beltway gets factored in. Maybe as the GPS becomes more ubiquitous the technology will start to track the results of people's travel, and realistic suggestions and times for a commute will be compiled.

Of course, keeping track of how much time we all waste on the road might make this whole commuting idea sound even worse than it already does...

No comments: