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Our twisted relationship with the GPS

Having an appliance that talks — but doesn't listen — drives some people around the bend. Others enjoy having someone in the car to argue with. It's all about the voice, an expert says.

February 08, 2011|By Faye Fiore, Los Angeles Times

The name Shirley can be traced to an old girlfriend who, upon hearing the GPS the first time, remarked: "God, that voice is annoying. It sounds like it would be a woman named Shirley," Yockelson recalled, adding: "I hope that doesn't offend anyone named Shirley."

Zita Lefebvre, 55, of La Cañada Flintridge, an executive at Cartoon Network Studios, had this to say when asked to describe her relationship with her GPS: "I hate mine! It sends me to streets that are closed, it has an attitude and I hate to be told what to do."

Occasionally we find ourselves in our vehicles, alone, screaming, because somewhere in the recesses of our brains we realize our robotic friend only wants to talk; it doesn't want to listen. We feel disrespected, ignored.

When we hear a voice, we think "person," and treat it with all the expectations and biases we would a human being. This has occasionally unmasked misogynistic streaks — not only in the aforementioned ex-husbands who hear directional guidance as bossiness and think "ex-wife," but in the entire nation of Germany, which had to have a product recall when BMW released its built-in GPS system with a female voice because Germans didn't want to take directions from a woman.

Many drivers consider the GPS the best and worst thing they ever bought, a pocket-sized road map — without the folding challenge — that always gets you home, even if that means Canoga Park by way of Fontana.

But even for those of us who have followed a GPS through the sunken backwaters of Mississippi, when there was a perfectly paved four-lane roadway a mere half-mile away, getting there by any means is still better than getting lost.

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