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Technology

Lost in technology— Brussels

Preface

A cautionary tale of what can happen if you love your sat nav a little too much

Society, Technology, Transport

17 January 2013

The fuse in my house blew the other day. With the lights off, internet gone, phone battery dead and windows whacked with freezing rain, I was resigned to find a simpler way to pass the time. For some, this would mean a relaxing stretch of candlelit reading. For many, stripped of all their emoticons and emails, it’s an unfolding nightmare of cold sweats and panic. I fell somewhere in between.

I thought of this when reading the latest news from Belgium, where a 67-year-old woman went on a wild cross-continental ride. She meant to pick up her friend at a train station in Brussels, only 38 miles away. Two days later, still steadfast on her mission, and following her (very) broken navigation system at every last turn, she ended up cruising the streets of Zagreb.

Imagine Allied soldiers packing up to invade Normandy and storming Barcelona’s beaches instead. It’s a 900-mile mistake. And it’s a perfect parable of our over-reliance on technology.

Hundreds of years from now, when historians of our grandchildren’s children’s generation attempt to pinpoint the exact moment when we allowed the drug of technology to wash away the remaining bits of free will and logic, the day marking the next era of our so-called Anthropocene, when we teetered on the edge and then fell willingly into thoughtless oblivion, into technological abyss, they’ll surely think of our Belgian heroine. I don’t mean to poke fun – I’m quite serious. She should know of her future fame.

The border crossing into France came first. She lived almost on the border, and despite her heading almost immediately in the wrong direction at the get-go, the French language on the signs was familiar, so let’s give her a pass. This could have happened to anybody, really.

But then came the hours-long drive into Germany – past Köln, across the Rhine, near the skyscrapers of Frankfurt and the beer halls of Munich, and the trip took a questionable turn. But onwards and upwards into Austria, where her gaze at the sat nav made her miss the snow-topped mountains. After stops for petrol and a nap on the side of the road came Slovenia, where the stop signs likely made even less sense than the lyrics on the radio. Croatia came last, where – oh dear – a mistake has somehow been made.

We’re told that every story has lessons. So what to be learned here? Of course we’re reliant on tech, on auto-correct and digital compasses. We’re stuck with it, thank god I say. But it’s akin to our reliance on food, on holidays, on perfume. The key, as it always is, is moderation. So look up every now and then, or you may end up far from home with very angry friends.

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