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February 13, 2008

Anthropomorphic Motoring

Filed under: Essay,Writing — litlove @ 3:38 pm

From Ombudsben

I have a coworker who gets lost easily; I’ll call her A. About four of us were hired at the same time, working between two buildings, a lovely old well-ornamented Beaux Arts building and a modern concrete and glass box, connected by various corridors and passageways. We have passcards to beam us into the places we are permitted to tread, which keep us out of the rest.At first A managed to get lost occasionally, losing her way on stairwells and such, and would find herself in other departments’ reception desks or elevator lobbies, relying on the kindness of strangers to find her way back to us. People tried to give her maps, but she claimed not to speak map. “Maps for me are art, and belong on the wall,” she half-joked.She once was given a project that involved maps, and came to me to sort out a couple textual descriptions based on the surveyors’ drawings. “I don’t get this,” she shook her head, “Maps for me are art, and belong on the wall.”

I nodded, studying the map and text. We compared the descriptions and got it done.

She recently bought a new car and her husband installed a GPS system for her. It’s one of those satellite navigation systems that helps you with directions, and it speaks to her with a calm, upbeat voice, helpful as it plots routes, and, not surprisingly, she doesn’t always agree with its choices.

So A argues with it. “I don’t want to take that route,” she tells it, yet her GPS system persists in advising her to take the route it recommends, until A progresses beyond all its GPS practicality. Then it pauses, before calmly informing her that it is recalculating her path.

She has named it Jill. I do not know why — perhaps she knew another Jill, once, and had a contentious relationship with her, too.

“There I was, driving northbound on the freeway, and it told me to turn left! ‘I can’t turn left!’” A said she hollered at her GPS system, “‘I’m on the freeway, you idiot!’”

I’ve known a lot of people who name their cars, anthropomorphically adding some personality to their metal, plastic and rubber contraptions. A is very happy with her new wheels, but I’m concerned about her relationship with Jill. We’ve joked about her pulling over to the side of the road, and in one final tactical fracas, Jill will be ripped form her dashboard and ejected to the roadside, to forlornly advise from the curb.

“Find your way back from there!” A might holler, as she roars off down the road.

I imagine Jill’s voice somewhat like the voice of Hal the computer in 2001, A Space Odyssey, at that point, slowly dimming in both intelligence and volume, as the plug is pulled.

Perhaps, like the humane society or local animal shelters, there will be an organization to take Jill in. To repair the damaged bits, and prepare her for another less volatile assignation. If humans and animals are worth a second chance, why shouldn’t computer systems get another try and finding a home?


  1. Oh, this was funny! It reminded me of the phone call I got at work the other day from a client who was trying to find our building with her gps and had gotten lost. I wonder if her gps has a name too?

    Comment by Stefanie — February 18, 2008 @ 12:13 am | Reply

  2. Thanks, Stefanie!

    There’s actually a sort of follow-up to the story. “A” had a very trying morning recently, involving her husband’s lost brown leather jacket, which trials and hubbub carried over to her departure for work.

    In her haste, she spilled a whole cup of coffee on her car stereo, scalding its circuits and drowning its voice forever.

    “Oh no!” I sympathized, then it occurred in a flash: “did you hit the GPS system at all?”

    “No!” sh wailed. “That was the second worse thing of it! Not a drop! It’s still trying to tell me what to do!

    “And now at lunch I have to go buy another car stereo, because I have to have that in the momrning, and my husband isn’t going to like either of it — that I killed the first one, or bought the second, and it’s all because of his jacket!”

    Perhaps her GPS, Jill, helped her find the store.

    Comment by OmbudsBen — February 20, 2008 @ 11:34 pm | Reply

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