Thursday 6 October 2011

When Technology Fails

Largely, I like the gadgets that living in the year 2011 means exist for my convenience and entertainment. For instance, I like having my entire music collection on a very small piece of electronic wizardry. I enjoy the fact that my camera can take ten frames a second, and continue to do so for ages. I also enjoy not having to change the film after 36 shots, and instead being able to take over 1000 images without even thinking about it. I like the instant gratification that having a small screen on the back allows. And histograms, well, where do I start? There is no praise high enough. I like having all the calls and songs of hundreds of European birds on my phone as an instant reference, and I like being able to call friends and family from just about anywhere with the same device, especially when it is to report the bagging of Sandhill Cranes in Aberdeenshire when they are all miles away. As far as I am concernced, these are excellent uses of technology, and they suit my needs very well.

Sometimes however technology oversteps the mark. This happened today, and predictably the device in question was a satnav. Now satnavs have their uses, don’t get me wrong, many is the time that mine has got me to an unfamiliar location, there to see some rare bird or other. I daresay that on occasion not having had a satnav might have caused me to miss a bird whilst I faffed about working out where I needed to go. Today though I could have lived without a satnav. When you are driving down a road in the Norfolk countryside, and the satnav comes out with “continue 400 yards , then board ferry”, you have to wonder if technology isn’t all it’s cracked up to to be.

A ferry?!  The four of us in the car looked at each other and wondered if we had heard it right. We had, for about a minute later the road ended abruptly at a river, and there, clanking towards us from the other side, was a small chain ferry. WTF? The lady in the satnav had announced the ferry-boarding with absolutely no change in intonation, it had all been very factual. “Proceed down the road, board the ferry”. I might have forgiven it had she been marginally excited. “Guys, carry on for just a bit longer, and then there’s a surprise! But no, monotone. Actually it was quite exciting. Until we saw the sign that said a car and passengers would be charged £3.90 for the 45 second crossing. For the distance travelled, that made it more expensive than the Scillonian, which is saying something. At least there wasn’t a long wait, but it would have been nice to have been asked. More human to have been asked.

The old codger operating the ferry did not fail to notice the evident surprise on our faces. Didn’t mean to come ‘ere did ya?,  he said. No, we admitted. Satnav, he pronounced, with an air of certainty. Yes, we said. That’ll be £3.90, he said.

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