Yesterday, I found myself traveling home after a long weekend. A lot of people had the same idea as me: “Hey, I’ve got some extra time, maybe I’ll get out of town!” The big problem with this, if you’re driving in a car, is that the highways then become clogged with cars. Usually, you go fast on the highway, but on holiday weekends, you’ll usually hit a lot of traffic. Maybe someone gets into a fender bender, maybe the person designing the highway was just very bad at their job. Probably both.
One trick for finding a faster route is to let a computer do it for you — a program like Google Maps or Waze. The big problem with navigation apps is that they’ve become so ubiquitous that everyone is now getting the same time-saving shortcuts, clogging the time-saving routes with traffic as well.
The other problem with these apps is that they have no chill — they are always trying to reroute me.
When you plug in your destination in Google Maps and start turn-by-turn directions, the program will continue to monitor traffic and change your route on the fly. This is an ostensibly useful feature that actually sucks so bad and I hate it, and it’s insane that it still exists. No offense (some offense). Many times, in using Google’s driving directions, I have never wanted a reroute and it has never been helpful.
Yesterday, for instance, Google estimated my drive to be three-and-a-half hours. I — a genius getting on I-95 on Memorial Day at noon — knew that it was probably going to be closer to four-and-a-half hours. I had made my peace with the situation. Here is what Google blurted at me repeatedly during my drive: “We found a different route that could save you five minutes; rerouting unless you say otherwise.”
This is a very stupid system. If the computer knows I am facing a 210-minute drive, it should not ask me if I want to save five minutes. That’s not a convincing ratio of “total time estimated” to “time saved.” This isn’t high-speed trading on Wall Street, I’m just trying to drive somewhere. And it’s an opt-out system, meaning that Google Maps will change the route unless you explicitly tap the button asking to stay on the original route. I love having to play a very precise game of Whac-A-Mole with my phone at 70 miles per hour.
I don’t need Google to take me off the highway and drive through a suburb to save five minutes, especially when Google is telling every other driver to also do that, and when I’ll probably get lost for 20 minutes anyway, because instead of going straight down the highway for a zillion years, I’m “bearing left at Mulberry Avenue onto Sycamore Grove” or something.
In effect, Google has become a backseat driver. I have settled on one route to something — which, I will remind you, has already been algorithmically optimized — and then Google keeps popping up like an annoying local to say, “Actually, if you take this exit you can save five minutes.” I don’t care about saving five minutes! The drive is still going to take forever. Google, please chill!!!
I know the little Google lady who lives in my phone with all of the maps is just trying to be helpful. Really, I do. But at some point, tech like this started trying to be so helpful that it just became aggravating. Sure, I’d love to save a substantial amount of time — but shaving off what feels like nanoseconds is only something that computer programs (and, I guess, world-class athletes) are praised for. At some point, functions like these achieve the opposite of their intended effect — they remind you of how much time you’ve sunken. They don’t make you feel optimized, they make you feel really foolish.