My Love-Hate Relationship With the GPS

We are living in an age of rapid technological innovation. How to properly utilize some of these new tools is one of the greatest challenges we face. Clearly, many of these advances have enhanced our ability to communicate, our quality of lives, our productivity.

But like all good things, we must learn to moderate our use of technology, lest it become an addiction or a crutch or an excuse to disengage from human contact.

At first, I thought Facebook was a big time-suck for my kids. Rather than oppose them, I joined them, and today I probably spend more time on Facebook than my three teenagers combined. They have moved onto cooler platforms, like Snapchat, while I utilize Facebook to reconnect with old high school friends and occasionally post a cute shot of one of our cats with some sarcastic political commentary.

New technologies like Netflix and on-demand video means we no longer have to rush home to watch our favorite TV show. The ABC Thursday night lineup is an anachronism because I can watch those shows just as easily on a Saturday afternoon. Network television only exists to televise sporting events -- it would be anticlimactic to watch the Super Bowl days after the game.

Smartphones provide the world in your front pocket. They offer you all your contacts (like the old-fashioned Rolodex), your schedule (day calendar), maps and directions (the portable atlas), a web browser (encyclopedias on steroids), and so much more. The smartphone is probably the most revolutionary invention since the rotary telephone.

Probably the most intriguing invention is the modern GPS. I have to make a confession: I am direction-challenged. I can travel the same route dozens of times in a car and I still will not be able to tell you the route. Below 14th Street in Manhattan, a neighborhood I called home for half a decade, is still a maze of oddly named streets and avenues that baffle me.

I have always found navigating roads and highways a confusing and sometimes overwhelming mystery. I recall a trip to San Francisco two decades ago, well before the advent of the digital navigational tools we have today.

I was invited to a party in Marin County, just over the Golden Gate Bridge. It took me more than an hour to find the destination because I drove back and forth, missing the correct turns and getting myself all flustered. By the time I got to the party, I was ready to take a nap.

And so, today, I am a huge fan (and slave to) the GPS. When I drive, I dutifully enter the address and let my phone's SIRI-like voice dictate my every move. I tell myself that because of this I don't have to drive carefully AND navigate at the same time, allowing me to focus only on driving as carefully and efficiently as possible.

But every technological advance is fraught with its own downside.

By overly relying on the voice in my car telling me where to go, I have sometimes been sent to dead ends. Because I turn my own navigational brain off, I don't try to question the GPS's occasional contradictory directions. I don't observe the signs on the road that have for decades sufficed for millions of drivers like my father.

I have become so addicted to the GPS, that at times I have become panicky when it fails or when my phone loses power in the middle of my journey. How will I get to my destination without someone telling me where to go?

I have recently been giving this addiction some serious thought. There are times in life, I believe, when we like to be told exactly what to do. Whether it's at work or at home or on a team, we all have an urge to follow a competent and confident leader. Especially when we feel unsure and vulnerable.

That's the way I feel when I embark on a long trip. It's kind of a metaphor for moving to a new place or starting a new job or switching to a new school. You want the comfort of a trusted friend or someone you respect to give you guidance. That's the way I view the GPS.

But it's better to be both a leader and a follower at the appropriate time.

So the next time I take a long trip, I'll let my GPS give me guidance -- but I'll use my own head and my own eyes to get me to the right place.

Tom Allon is the president of City & State, NY and the former Liberal Party-backed candidate for Mayor. Questions or comments: