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GPS: Is It a Find?

Andrea Sachs

For the holidays, I am torn between asking for pearl earrings and a GPS unit. I need the former because I recently lost one of my earrings, and every proper girl needs a pair. For the latter, well, to be honest, I could get lost in a driveway. I never seem to know which way is up or out.

According to multiple studies, including the Swedish Research Institute of Trade, the portable GPS system is going to be one of the most popular Christmas gifts this year. What would I do with all of my newfound time, I wondered?
Before begging Santa for a device, I decided to take one for a test drive this weekend. A pal recently acquired a Garmin, and he loves it like a father loves a child--pure adoration and blind to its faults. He could not imagine his life before GPS. (I could: It involved countless U-turns, front seat road rage and gas station stops for directions.)

When driving, I am like a puppy with my head hanging out of the window. I love to breathe in the air of a new destination, staring at the scenery and soaking up the sights whizzing by. I love to stop short if I see something of interest, even if it's not on my itinerary or makes me a tad late for my hotel check-in, dinner, etc. That was then. With the GPS stuck on the windshield like a small TV, just inches from my eyeballs, my head swiveled inward, not out. Meanwhile, my eyes fixated on the cartoon car driving down the illuminated pink road, taking a left, going straight, only 1.2 miles to go, estimated arrival time of 6:15. No, make that 6:18, because Little Miss GPS did not factor in traffic.

I have to admit, I did appreciate not getting lost. I didn't miss having to ask random strangers for directions, then trying to decipher said directions. In addition, the gadget kept the mood in the car much calmer than usual. The frustration level dropped to Blue -- Guarded, because I still was a bit doubtful of its claimed abilities. (What about dirt roads? What happens when there is no street address? Huh??)

But I also felt that I had become so focused on watching the computer that I: 1) drove like a Granny, barely keeping up with the speed limit; 2) did not enjoy any of my surroundings, except the points of departure and arrival; and 3) worried that I'd missed out on a lot of capricious stops that make travel more than just a commute from Place A to B.

So, with the holidays nearing, I am still undecided. If I pick the GPS, I think I will use it more when it's crucial I be on time or if the roads or route are notably confusing. But when up for a crazy excursion, I will keep the gizmo locked in the trunk. On the other hand, pearls work well in most situations. Decisions, decisions. . .

Help me with my gift list: pearls or a GPS unit?

By Andrea Sachs |  December 11, 2007; 8:44 AM ET  | Category:  Andrea Sachs
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Pearls. Not only earrings, maybe a nice choker as well.

My father is a gadgeteer to the nth degree, and never been a great driver. GPS has made him WORSE.

He relies on it so heavily that if he can't find a road or a route he expects, all he does is tinker with it, meaning he's not keeping his eyes on the road. (The family yells at him en masse if we're sharing a car with him while he does this.)

What's really annoying is that even if he's been provided with clear directions and/or maps to a location by people who know the area, he insists on using his GPS system because it *must* be better - it's GPS! But it always seems to take him on the most difficult or time consuming route, and it's usually the route the locals try to avoid having you take for one reason or another.

Sometimes, it's just easier to call the people or business you're heading towards, get directions, write them down in big letters on a piece of paper you can leave on your passenger seat and use those instead.

Very 19th century/Luddite of me, I know (despite being an IT professional), but GPS systems are dependent upon the data in their systems. And it's usually a GIGO situation (garbage in, garbage out).

Posted by: Chasmosaur | December 11, 2007 9:43 AM

Pearls...and learn how to read a map.

Posted by: arlington | December 11, 2007 9:55 AM

GPS, and set it for audio instructions so you can turn your attention towards the road...

Besides, Valentine's Day is just around the corner...

Posted by: Mandy | December 11, 2007 10:05 AM

Go for the GPS. A portable GPS is invaluable when renting a car in a strange city.

Just remember, a GPS is not a substitute for common sense. Sometimes they have a glitch (like the time my Tom Tom told me to turn right when I was at the top of the Bay Bridge).

Posted by: Dan | December 11, 2007 10:33 AM

ps. get the single pearl earring reset as a ring or pendant.

Posted by: Mandy | December 11, 2007 11:31 AM

Pearls, definitely. Pearls aren't going to improve -- how do you improve on perfection? -- but technology never stays the same.

Posted by: Wanderer | December 11, 2007 11:37 AM

I know someone who uses a GPS to get to a friend's house whose address has not change in 25 years! Now he has difficulty finding the house! He was able to find it fine before he received the GPS as a gift.

I agree, use a map. We are teaching the kids how to navigate with one because maps are easier to come by in a foreign country, and I am concerned this might be a lost art.

Posted by: go with the pearls | December 11, 2007 12:03 PM

Navigation unit.

It's a misnomer to call it GPS. A GPS device merely tells you where you are, not how to get anywhere.

The Navigation Units/Systems for sale are equipped with a GPS receiver so it can figure out where it is.

Posted by: Semantics | December 11, 2007 2:31 PM

Get a phone with GPS in it - then you can use Google Maps w/ GPS for free. Also - you can use Google text messages for free -- just send a message to 46645 (GOOGL) with the original address first, then "TO", and then the destination address. Now you're not lost anymore. Get the pearl earrings - those will still be useful in a few years.

Posted by: techie | December 11, 2007 4:00 PM

Get the earrings and hint that you wish you had a GPS. Let someone else do the pricing, searching, comparing while you get to shop for The Perfect Earrings.

Posted by: Improper Girl | December 12, 2007 10:25 AM

Pearls and navigation unit. I believe in getting both. One to look good when you arrive on time to where you're going with the other. The idea of the phone with it is really a keeper! I always get my birthday/Christmas/Valentines and anniversary all rolled into one and get a trip so that I won't "get a Lowes' card" Hubby knows that jewelry bought on a trip is the best memory.

Posted by: Bearmom | December 12, 2007 1:04 PM

People such as limo drivers, etc. may benefit from a navigation device. I don't think the rest of us need one. Common sense suggests that the device itself has to be distracting, leading to sloppy driving, not paying attention, etc. I'm sure it leads to unsafe driving. If you're going someplace unfamiliar, and really have to get there on time, get directions online and take a dry run prior to your trip. If the trip is too long to make that practical, get good directions online (not Mapquest! Use AAA!).

Posted by: mibsphil | December 12, 2007 4:17 PM

Definitely the GPS. We have used ours all over the world by downloading additional maps. Once you get used to it you will stop looking at the screen, and when traveling you can just pop in a destination (like a specific museum for example) and it will take you there. I love, love, love my Garmin unit, never leave home without it.

Posted by: constant traveler | December 13, 2007 10:16 AM


Every woman should have a set of pearls-- they are a classic.

GPS-- I am NOT a gadget person but it's so practical. I can't read in moving transit (planes, cars, buses) so it's better that my husband canfocus on the road instead of trying to look at a map when going somewhere unfamiliar and I don't have to get sick.

Posted by: American abroad | December 13, 2007 1:06 PM

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