I used to be the woman at the receiving end of marvellous propositions like “I’ve been waiting to play you this song all week” or “You’re going to love this more than Serial”.
Now, it is mostly, “You were supposed to tell me about the left 50m before the left.”
I blame this degradation in the emotional quality of my car rides entirely on Google Maps. It is not only robbing us of our road sense, making us second-guess years of internalized directions, but it is also an annoying third wheel that doesn’t know when to leave the party.
The inside of cars used to be sacred places. When riding alone, it was always a haven to compose text flirtations, crying or being cried to by a friend in a different city, decoding a one-word email from your boss, calling your grandmother, listening to No.1 on Billboard Hot 100 over and over again without embarrassment. None of this is possible if your speakers are suddenly going to blurt out, “Slide left on Sir Mathuradas Vasanji Road” or “Take the third exit on Takandas Kataria Marg”. Apart from instructing me on the absurd nomenclature of Maharashtra’s roadways—information I have no use for—Google Maps has only proven to be a nuisance.
Why don’t I stop using it? It is not an option any more, especially since I cannot drive and need to abide by the wishes of people who do. Also, these days, I often receive location pins on WhatsApp in lieu of actual addresses. The people I have been navigating for even have a wide spectrum of preferences on how they would like to be guided: Someone doesn’t like the Google Maps audio so they think it is a reasonable request to have me do nothing but stare at my phone for the entire duration of the drive; someone wants to be told of turns a signal before; and some have that 50m fixation.
Perhaps most disturbingly, navigational apps have also made drivers incompetent. The phone is a deified object. Even times when I have been clearly lost, clearly at a dead end, radio taxi drivers have put their hands up and said, “Phone mein dikha raha hai (The phone’s showing this route).” How dare one challenge the phone? Might as well replace the Ganpati on the dashboard already. In the recent past, my driver admonished me for chatting away on the phone when I should have been looking at my phone and giving him directions instead.
A couple of years ago, on New Year’s Eve, I was with two girlfriends, looking for a retreat in rural Maharashtra. We were supposed to reach before 6pm to settle in. Of course, we didn’t have physical maps. Of course, the phone network was terrible, which meant our maps were loading with a lag and we were nowhere near the retreat by 8pm. We decided to do the right thing: roll down our windows and ask a man on a bicycle. He looked at us puzzled and pulled out his phone. To our horror, to check on Google Maps.
Oh, how I ache for the comforting glance of the family driver to whom you could rattle off a seemingly impossible-to-achieve list of errands to complete in half an hour. The one who would take the challenge and weave his way through backroads and by-lanes to carry you on this mission.
Open Google Maps. No more road wizardry. No joy in calling shotgun. The rise of Google Maps is the death of the joyride.