What about when it fails?

I love my GPS. I bought it last summer before a motorcycle trip from Maine to South Dakota and she was my constant companion for the whole trip. I say “she” because when it came time to choose a voice for it to use, the least annoying option was a fairly pleasant Australian female voice – “Matilda”. I have referred to my GPS as “Matilda” ever since – as in, “Is there a grocery store near here?”. “I dunno, lemme check with Matilda…”.

Last night I was riding in the car with my wife, on our way to our daughters swim meet. We had never been to the particular YMCA that was hosting the meet, and it was in a town about 40 miles away, so we were following my trusty Matilda to the meet. As we neared our destination, our route took us onto a fairly congested section of highway, with a high cement and chain-link barricade between the two sides of the black top. Matilda began informing me that coming up in 1 mile was a sharp left turn. This seemed odd, as that would mean crossing the opposite side of the highway, but I figured there must be a leftward exit ahead, and dutifully moved over into the left lane. As we approached the supposed turn however (coming up in 400yds…350yds… 300yds…) I became increasingly skeptical that there was actually such a left ahead. And sure enough, as the countdown reached 100yds… 50yds… and then Matilda began to have a mild seizure informing me I was missing the turn, the un-interrupted barricade to my left continued to fly by smoothly. Matilda had been flat-out wrong.

It worked out all right. Matilda recovered and promptly had me take an exit to the right, and ultimately navigated us to the swim meet, but I mean – what the heck was that? So this episode got me to thinking. So much of our lives have become dependant (and increasingly so) on the technology all around us. I rely so heavily on technology to get through my day – and not just at work. I would die without my smartphone. I almost never carry cash, using my debit card for everything. Even when I am not at work, I am usually on the computer or my laptop.

We all begin to take these little technological wonders for granted. They are all around us, keeping connected, on time, on track, entertained, and generally pampered in a way that has here-to-fore never been experienced by the human race. And I’m all for that. I really am. But what happens when all that – or even a small piece of that – fails?

I think there are two basic approaches one could take to that scenario. Either 1) Have a backup, contingency, non-technical solution to fall back on (like keeping a paper printout of all the important phone numbers you need for your work associates taped to the wall above your monitor, just in case the Exchange server is down, and you can’t look them up). Or 2) Build your environment with enough redundancy (a laptop AND an Internet enabled smartphone, or a GPS AND a paper map, for instance) that you can survive the loss of one piece of your technology life raft, without going under all together. Perhaps the real solution is a combination of the two.

This of course is not always possible, but it is the best we can do. You can not completely insulate yourself from ever having a failure of the technology around you, but you can ensure that when the technology does fail you are prepared to deal with it. Having a flashlight, battery-powered radio, and lots of fresh batteries on hand at all times just makes good sense. It doesn’t necessarily mean the lights are going out, but if they do – you’re ready.

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