THE BLOG
02/11/2013 01:03 pm ET Updated Apr 13, 2013

How a GPS Can Get You in Hot Water

After reading several articles about how people religiously followed their GPS to disaster -- and knowing many people who got lost following their GPS to my house in the Oakland hill, I thought of a new slogan for GPS -- Gullible People are Stupid!

At least that's what I thought about after I reading the latest story of how people sometimes let their GPS override their common sense and lead them astray. In this case, in a story headlined: "Man Allegedly Follows GPS Directions to Wrong House; Shot Dead," a man in his early 20s, Rodrigo Diaz, was picking up one more friend to join a skating party. But after Diaz followed his GPS into a driveway, 69 year-old Phillip Sailors peered out of his window and came out with his gun blazing, since he was afraid of a home-invasion robbery. Though Diaz tried to drive away, he was unfortunately shot fatally in the head. Maybe Sailors overreacted since Diaz was already trying to leave -- but the GPS led Diaz to the wrong place at the wrong time -- so boom!

In another "how could she be so stupid case," a woman from Belgium who was trying to go to a Belgian railway station 90 miles away ended up driving 900 miles to Zagreb in Croatia, because she kept following where her GPS told her to go. You would think as she passed road signs in different languages -- first French, then German, and finally Croatian -- she would have thought something was amiss. Or perhaps she might have wondered why she was going south, when her destination was to the north. Or what about when she crossed the border into Austria. But no, she looked to her trusty GPS.

Then, I thought about my own experiences with people who looked on their GPS like God, though certainly it was a false one. For example, even though I provided people with clear directions on how to get to my house in the Oakland hills that was a few short turns away from a major freeway, I had several people who relied on their GPS instead. They typically ended up high in the hills or down in the flats, when they called me for directions on how to get to my house from where they were. In some cases, I even had to guide them on the phone for about five to 10 minutes as they wound their way back, though one woman still missed a turn-off and ended up on the freeway rather than going under it, and decided to give up and go home. Ironically, one man who finally got to my house with my guidance put his GPS on my living room table, as it bleated out: "Now go right. You are 300 feet away." So much for bad advice.

I have even driven with people who wanted to rely on their GPS, which was taking them on a wild goose chase through the roads encircling downtown San Francisco to Fisherman's Wharf, when I knew a direct route across town that would be one mile instead of three. One man who was driving was about to turn right when I told him, "No, go straight ahead," and for a few moments he kept insisting: "But my GPS says to turn here," as we sat in the intersection with cars honking. But I was adamant. "Well, I live here, and I know to go," so finally he let me direct him and we got there five minutes later instead of the 12 minutes advised by his GPS. A few days later, a woman navigating told me to turn right at the same right turn. At least I was driving, so I drove straight ahead. But I began thinking about how sometimes we have come to rely on our high-tech devices so much that we let them override our common sense.

Then I read about the many other GPS cases where people followed their GPS blindly to end up in the wrong place. One Nevada couple got stuck in the snow, after their GPS led them deep into an Oregon forest where they got stuck in the snow for three days. Three woman from Mexico followed the GPS on a rental car into a swamp in Bellevue, Washington, though they climbed out safely. A man from Alaska drove into the water after leaving the Whittier ferry because his GPS said to drive right -- and he did -- right over a ramp into the harbor at high tide. At least, he and his two dogs escaped, though the cat died... and the examples go on and on.

In short, we far too much depend on these so-called smart devices that tell us what to do. But they aren't always so smart. So we need to pay attention to our other sources of information that tell us something is wrong with our GPS guidance, such as written directions to a location, input from people who know the area, and mileage meters and road signs that suggest when one has gone astray. Oh, and if you are going to a house where you haven't been before, perhaps use your cell phone to let the person know you are almost there to be sure you are arriving at the right house, and if not, ask where to go, so you don't become a Gullible People are Stupid casualty, too.

* * * * * *
Gini Graham Scott, Ph.D. is the author of over 50 books with major publishers and has published 30 books through her own company Changemakers Publishing and Writing. She writes books and proposals for clients, and has written and produced over 50 short videos through her company Changemakers Productions. Her latest books include: The Very Next New Thing: Commentaries on the Latest Developments that Will Be Changing Your Life and Living in Limbo: From the End to New Beginnings.