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directions for old people“Seriously, Mom? What is wrong with people over 50?” my son asked me the other day.  “Everyone over 50 feels the need to explain how to get somewhere. It’s annoying.”

What is wrong with us?  Why do we insist on giving directions when just about all of us now have a device that pleasantly talks us to our destination, and politely corrects us when we make a wrong turn?

“I try to cut them off by telling them I have a GPS and all I need is the address, but they keep on going like I never said anything,” my son explained, “they don’t really get it… so I just tune them out.”  It is probably safe to say that if you are on the phone with someone under 50 and you are insisting on giving them directions, they are probably checking their emails or texting. I say, “Don’t waste your breath.”

I know, I know, we just gave up Red Meat, Salt and Ice Cream.  Do we have to give up Directions too?

I hate to admit it, but I don’t want to hear Directions either, unless you are warning me of a special hazard or that there is a possibility I will input the wrong address into my device.  I don’t mind:  “that turn comes up really fast after the exit,” or “there are three Highland Streets in the city–make sure you input Highland Ave.”  With my iPhone in my pocket and my GPS in the car (duo systems for checks and balances), I have begun to think that people who insist on giving Directions are annoying and dare I say it…. “Out of touch”?

But oh, I remember Directions well….

When I was little, in the rare event that my dad drove me anywhere alone, my mom would always give my dad Detailed Directions.  My dad would listen attentively.  Then we would get in the car and drive to the end of our street and he would stop.  “Did she say ‘Left’ or ‘Right’?,”  he would ask with a smile– and we would both crack up.   My dad had a great natural sense of direction–he seemed to just “feel” his way to where we were going.

When I got my license, it was as if I had been asleep in the passenger seat for 16 years.  I had no idea how to get anywhere. When I would inevitably get lost, I would pull into the nearest gas station and ask the attendant.  Without a pen and paper to write down the directions, I would repeat the Detailed Directions from the attendant in an attempt to emblazon them in my memory.   By the time I got to the end of the gas station driveway, I’d think, “did he say ‘Left’ or ‘Right’?”  And then I’d get lost again.  But I assume that is how I eventually learned how to get around Boston, and maybe, just maybe, it exercised my memory a tad, which perhaps comes in handy now that I am post-50.

For a quarter of a century, I was astounded by my husband’s inability to Ask Directions.  No matter how lost we were (we are never lost anymore–we have a GPS), Mike simply refused to stop and ask. “Men don’t ask for directions,” he joked.  But it wasn’t really a joke, it was life.

Lately, GPS has brought me across my home town, across oceans, and directed me around the highways of foreign countries.  I have wanted to kiss it when it has shown me back roads that lead me from one town to another that I didn’t know existed.  I have wanted to murder it when it did not recognize an address I knew to be correct, I couldn’t get the holder to stick to the windshield, or the battery died on route and I didn’t have the charger cord.

But I do wonder if GPS has stifled any sense of the Big Picture in young people who have grown up with this technology fully integrated into their lives.  When the kids are following Directions blindly, do they ever develop the sixth sense of direction that we all need sometimes- especially when technology goes haywire?

I reminded my son of the time he plugged “Dudley Street” into the GPS instead of “Dudley Road,” and he drove around Roxbury for hours.  I reminded him of the time he wound up in New Hampshire after a track event in high school.  Neither of these reminders fazed him.  He swears technology never fails him, but I know that can’t be true.

My son moved into a new apartment the other day. “Is it closer to Washington Square or Coolidge Corner?” I asked him.  “When I go down Beacon Street, where do I take a right?”

“Mom, can I just text you the address?” he asked.   I wondered if he really knew where he lived- in the big sense.

I guess I will just have to rely on Siri to tell me whether I turn “Left” or “Right” to visit my son.  I am sure she won’t let me down, but if she does, maybe my son will remember where we live.

 

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