“Dad, where did you send me?” My daughter’s bark had a plaintive edge as she phoned from some industrial park in Lansdale, PA. There was also a weariness to her voice, as if to say, "yes, I am lost, but this road you led me down looks troublingly familiar." She was calling a family celebration to which she was headed from our home in Delaware. Technically, my daughter did not get herself lost. Because of my own misplaced faith in mobile technology -- and, well, Apple -- I had gotten my own daughter lost. As I said, she didn't know where she was, but she knew that in a way she had been there many times before.
Not again, Dad.
The twisted chain of commands went something like this. My wife had texted me her parents’ address, the site of a big 50th anniversary celebration for my still-new in-laws. I then copied the text into my iPhone's default map app, located the spot with a virtual pushpin and shared the map location with my daughter to guide her. “Go there,” I captioned the text, telling her to let her own maps app load the location and invoke the driving directions. You might think this was an adroit and creative use of the tools at hand. Yeah, well -- don't.
She ended up about 5 miles from the destination.
“I am in an industrial park, not a retirement community,” she complained. “And it looks a little dicey around here.”
As much as I strained to believe there was a dicey part of the sleepy suburb of Lansdale, my paternal instincts slipped into panic mode. It was bad enough that my girl was getting nervous about her surroundings, alone in her car. But in a total reversal of fatherly responsibility, I was to blame for putting her there. Great, Dad. While you are at it, why not just fix her up with the pot-smoking, tattooed Harley rider down the street? Better yet, recommend she try hitchhiking next time with someone who knows the address.
Don’t worry. For those of you keeping score over the years and my countless mobile missteps with this child of mine, my shame gets worse.
It turns out that the relatively new streets in my in-laws’ retirement community are famously invisible to Google maps --apparently Apple’s too. Rather than returning an error message, the real address ends up pointing to an entirely different location in the same town.
By the way, to make matters worse, “Mr. Mobile” over here had to be informed by all the septuagenarians and octogenarians in the room that this is a widely known problem for getting to this area. It turns out they all have GPS devices in their car that have gotten befuddled by the address many time before. I am being schooled in mobility by a roomful of folks who remember televised roller derby and Uncle Miltie.
“Mapquest” is the one that knows this address,” I was told.
“Mapquest?” Geez, I haven’t used Mapquest in about seven years. Last I used them they were still requiring page reloads every time I reoriented the map. But for this set of digitally savvy seniors, it is still the go-to brand. Go figure.
Determined not to be totally humiliated by my combination of mobile malfeasance and fatherly incompetence, I did what I usually do. I doubled down in my reliance on the technology. “Send me your GPS location,” I told my daughter on the phone. I walked her through how to locate herself on the map and then share the geolocation with me.
“We will come get you,” I said, not wanting to get her lost even further by trying to direct her here. The rescue party was joined as brother-in-law, wife and I piled into a car and followed my phone’s path to her.
Until we got to the exact location her GPS had given us to find no daughter, no car -- no sign of a lost co-ed. Turns out we were within a block of her, but it took a phone call and her reciting street signs to get us around the right corner.
Is there a lesson in this? I am not sure. Perhaps there is a cautionary tale in overconfidence in our own technology and our presumptions about its accuracy? Or a lesson in how experience and doubt remain necessary filters and hedges against handing our lives over to intelligent machines. After all, it took a roomful of the demographic that is least technically aware (according to conventional wisdom) to tell me where I went wrong and what app I should have been using.
“You’re going to write a column about this, aren’t you?” my daughter says to me in the passenger seat as we follow my brother-in-law in to the anniversary party. Because, frankly, I would rather be riding in the car with her on the way back than with my wife and her brother. At least my daughter has a long history of my thwarted tech hubris. My new family is still getting way too much enjoyment out of these misadventures.
“I don’t think there is any way of telling this where I don’t come off silly and clueless in the face of a much smarter family.”
“No, Homer, but I think that pretty much is expected by now.”