I’m one of those people who has grown increasingly reliant on modern technology, and I’m worried (not really) that it’s altered my mind.
With autocorrect and autofill, I no longer remember people’s phone numbers or email addresses, and I can’t spell some basic words beyond the first few letters. Who needs to remember how to spell a frustrating word like “amateur” when autocorrect only requires a-m-a-t to know what you’re getting at?
This is a dangerous slope.
In the beginning, for me, it was caller ID. The idea that I could know — instantly — who was calling the house was both novel and frightening. Suddenly I could screen calls or see who had phoned but not left a message. Both functions were equally handy when I was a teenager.
Somewhere along the way, however, caller ID made me self-conscious about my “hellos.” Should I still answer in the form of a question — “Hello?” Or was that essentially lying, since I knew who was on the other end? Wouldn’t it be better to just pick up the phone and say, “Hi, ________”?
The worst, though, is when caller ID hiccups and doesn’t display the name of the caller. Instead, it reads, “Searching.” What is a person to do then? I mean, who answers the phone without knowing who’s on the other end?
And yet, all of these predicaments seem like eons ago now that I hardly use my house phone, or any phone at all, for that matter.
Worst scenario ever: You’re texting with someone when suddenly your phone rings … and it’s them!
So I’ve recognized for awhile now that my conversational skills are rotting thanks to caller ID and text messages, but until last week, I didn’t realize that my sense of direction was in jeopardy, too.
I was driving through a rural part of Maine, where some houses are still decorated for Christmas but it doesn’t matter because the nearest neighbor is a half-mile away. The posted speed limit was 35 mph, but every car I passed seemed to be going 65 mph. Wild turkeys roamed the streets.
But I didn’t feel far from home … until I lost cellphone service.
The “E” at the top of my phone disappeared, and Siri, the voice on the iPhone GPS that gives me directions, went silent. I pulled up the map app and tried to get directions to the Interstate. An error message popped up: “Unable to connect to the Internet.”
I pulled off the side of the road and tried again.
I clicked “Get Directions,” and nothing happened.
My heart started to beat in my throat. How was I going to get home now? These days, I know road names like I know phone numbers and email addresses. My phone does it for me.
I clicked the arrow at the bottom of the screen to at least figure out where I was. A new error message appeared: “Your location cannot be determined.”
I stared at the screen in horror. If Siri didn’t know where I was, how was I to know?
All at once I felt very alone — stranded by the cool voice on my iPhone. How could Siri do this to me?
I got back on the road and headed in the direction I thought was north. After seven miles, my location reappeared on the screen.
Phew! I’d been found!
But the the Directions function still wasn’t working. There was no Internet. So I clung to the sliding, blinking blue dot on the map, at this point the only real proof, basically, that I existed. I was in survival mode, praying that the blue dot didn’t disappear again.
Soon, however, my cavewoman instincts took over. You know, the ones that recognize mile markers, mailboxes and signs outside country stores.
I would get back home with or without Siri.
Thirty miles later, I was just outside a major city. Rolling up to the first traffic light I’d seen in about an hour, I felt like a lost woodsman coming out of the forest with battle scars and hair that hasn’t been cut in weeks.
I looked at people in cars to my left and right. Didn’t they know what I’d just been through, that I’d been lost without the Internet to guide me?
People smiled back at me like I hadn’t just come back from the brink of nonexistence: disappearing from the iPhone map.
When I pulled onto the interstate and merged with oncoming traffic equally unaware of my close call, Siri’s voice returned.
“Go north for seventy miles,” she said cheerfully. “Then turn right.”
But I wasn’t taking any chances. Not with the same Siri who deserted me before. So I dialed my husband to ask for directions.
He didn’t answer.
I think he might have screened me.
Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. She may be reached at www.Facebook.com/Sarah.is.Smiley.