Sunday, June 07, 2009


The other day we were supposed to go to a conference in San Francisco from work. As I have said before, I *hate* driving in San Francisco and invariably take the Caltrain followed by SF Muni buses/trams whenever I want to visit SF. However, after lot of discussion, my colleague and I discovered that taking the Caltrain involved getting up at some unearthly hour if we had to make it to the conference on time. So, driving it was - sigh :-(! My colleague said she would get her GPS but I said, "Hmm - okay! I will also get printouts of the directions."

Now in this world where using GPS is the fast becoming the de facto standard and paper maps are slowly becoming extinct, I am still stoutly refusing to buy a GPS and am clinging to paper maps with a vengeance.

This is not because I hate trees and using paper maps is my insidious way of trying to destroy them. Just that, since the time I started driving and using maps to find my way around, my sense of direction has improved. A lot. This might not seem like a big deal to most of you, but not so at all to me!

I was a directionally challenged child. I would have to visit any place at least half a dozen times before the way to get there would get impressed upon my brain (and note here, I am not even talking about long distances, I am talking about stuff like "how to get to the library from my classroom"). Not surprisingly, I grew up to be a directionally challenged teenager and a directionally challenged young adult too.

Some of you may be thinking, "Ah, but everyone loses their way from time to time...."

Okay, beat this:

- When we moved to a small town near Trichy, we moved into a colony which had exactly two streets. On the way back from school the first day, I promptly turned into the street in which my house was *not* located. A neighbor (who knew that new folks had arrived in the colony - it was a small town, didn't I say?) kindly directed me down the right street.

- In the first week of grad school I trailed like a lost puppy behind two other new grad students who were temporarily put up in the same apartment complex as me because I could not figure out how to get back home from school. Don't get me started on the different kinds of grad orientation programs I was utterly uninterested in and yet had to attend because I did not know how to go home by myself!

- Within a span of five days in the same grad school mentioned above I asked for directions to the administrative building when standing right in front of it, behind it and beside it. Yup, with campus map in hand too.

- When I visited my parents for the first time in their new home, the first morning, I made the wrong turn while trying to get to the kitchen (before you get ideas about palatial mansions, this is a normal apartment)

So anyways, the point here is, if there was any way to get lost getting somewhere, you could count on me to get lost. Hence anytime I had to visit an unknown place, I asked for several landmarks/street-names etc to make getting there idiot-proof. I had more or less resolved myself to spending a lifetime of memorizing copious directions.

Then I started driving. Initially I had nightmares about getting lost along with a car. Then I noticed a strange thing. As if by magic, my sense of direction started improving. Not by leaps and bounds but certainly very much in the forwardly direction. Perhaps it was because, for the first time in my life, I was consciously noticing where I was going.

First I started recognizing which streets were parallel/perpendicular to each other. Then when getting back from an unknown place, I could pull out the reverse directions from memory. Then I could tell which freeways intersected with each other and whether to go north or south (east or west) to get to that intersection.

The pinnacle of progress (for me) was reached when I managed to guide my friends to spots around San Diego with only a normal AAA map to help me. A stellar achievement when you consider that just a couple of years earlier, my superior navigational powers made my friend drive about 15 miles in the direction opposite to Disneyland in LA.

All this is not to say that now I can get around the world with only a compass in my hand. I can't. For that matter I doubt I will be able to get around my city with only a compass in hand. But if I make a wrong turn now I can mostly figure out how to get back to the starting point and start afresh. I can also make intelligent guesses about where something is located. Which is not quite so grand in the big scale of things - but which nevertheless gives me a cheap thrill when I am right.

Ah - so where was I? GPS. Ya - the reason why I don't want a GPS is, I don't want it to dumb me down all over again and undo all my progress in recent years. I want to use my brain to do the work. Agreed that printing directions off Yahoo maps and driving to a place is not exactly a Mensa challenge but it still requires more work and direction sense than having a random female intone "Turn left in 0.3 miles".

So yup, I am not going to hop onto the GPS wagon as long as I can stand it out.

Image from here.


Altoid said...


I am so with you on this post that I was nodding my head for every line and para. In fact, you've given me fodder for a post. I am the same way. I've held off spending money on a GPS and still go about with maps and printout directions. I still lose my way in DC(and sometimes at all the wrong times) but hey I seem to be finding new routes in/out. Nothing like tried and tested methods, I would argue.

So I might link you up, expect something soon :).

Bhel Puri & Seekh Kabab said...

Good for you. I too am extremely directionally-challenged, and I was laughing reading your examples. I have been using a GPS for several years now (with the voice turned off), and you are right, it has not improved my sense of direction.

Meira said...

Your determination is appreciable :)
Kudos. And don't worry...there are a lot of us in your club:D

Joy said...

You sound so much like my husband :) I agree with GPS, you lose the sense of direction. Looking into maps and figuring is a way of learning. We did get a GPS but my husband always consults maps and may times ignore GPS and to take a shorter/easier route. The poor thing keeps sayin "Recalculating.." You know you have give me ideas for a post :) :)

Serendipity said...

Archie :) , the GPS lady is not all that great at times .. the other day , my colleague was told that his destination was on his right.It wasn't , it was 3 lefts away.The destination on his right was a dumpster
You go girl , u read them maps , you be columbus!

Bharathis said...

The cartoon is cute. I recollect your meanderings in San Francisco fondly.I was busy clicking away all the colourful buildings from the back seat and enjoyed the 'losing our way' part very much in my very first trip to a new city!

Archana Bahuguna said...

A "so-Archana" post after a long time! :-) Hilarious and fun! I am with you on this. My direction sense is also pretty bad, but has improved over time by driving around more with google maps in hand ... I hate GPS too. Too dumb! :-)

Revathi said...

Lost my way in the web (while searching for a friends)and tripped over your blog :-).Made quite an interesting and amusing read LOl. I too am directionally challenged :-)- it reminded me of the time, while returning from 1st grade school, how I landed up in the hall of a wrong house and proceeded to remove my shoes w/o realising it (of course we lived in similar apmts then).

Prabhu said...

Me too on the side of anti-GPS's .
I have managed to successfully get lost in Wash DC with the GPS more than if I had my maps printed out. The reason being I would like to explore my turns before-hand (and have an imprint of the google map on my head).
The only thing that I have found the GPS very useful is with finding nearby restaurants/places of interest in unfamiliar cities.

Arun said...


Strayed into your blog searching for something else... Fellow tam from Chennai and glad to find someone who can review movies so I can pick my next flick with some confidence!!
I am still figuring out SFO but I am "for the GPS" side..

Have fun