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Where Do You Want To Go Today?

So, this weekend I bought a GPS. It’s a Garmin nuvi 755T. Now, apparently, I cannot ever get lost again regardless of what people might tell me.

It is truly an amazing thing, to have a device that not only tells you where you are but can tell you how to get to where it is you want to go. The 755T also has traffic updates which will re-route you to avoid lengthy traffic delays. I can even find a location using Google maps and upload it from my computer into my GPS.

My first jobs I had were delivery: one was taking supplies to various construction work sites and the other was delivering office supplies to our company’s customers. In the first case, I had to rely on those multiple-folding maps that were available from the local gas station (yes, I am old enough to remember Esso stations in the US!). These maps used to be given as a courtesy, but to get them now you need to visit the individual state’s Visitor Information center, usually on the interstate at the border.

My other job at least had those handy map books made by ADC, but you had to have a book for every county… and we had to share them between drivers. They were less portable than the multi-fold maps, but usually more up to date. However, the maps were scattered across all of the pages in the book, so if you drove off of on page then you had to figure out on which page you continued– not always an easy thing to do while driving.

With my new GPS, not only are my maps kept up to date, but they are portable and don’t require me to take my hands off of the steering wheel to turn pages while driving. Pretty slick.

Technology, though, isn’t without a price and in the case of GPS devices in general one can only wonder at whether the cost is worth it. For example, GPSes (if that is how one pluralizes it) take away the need to know how to read a map. For the younger generation this can be troublesome– what if your GPS breaks or the battery runs out? Will you be able to read a map and find your way safely? This is especially troublesome if one is in a very remote location without a cell signal (a topic for a different day) and unable to find one’s way home.

GPS technology is being built into cell phones and in some automobiles. Proponents are wanting this trend to be the norm, but at what cost to your privacy? With a mandated GPS in your car, the potential is there for a government entity to monitor your travels. Some green initiatives are wanting to impose a tax on every mile that you drive. A January 9, 2009 article from reports that the governor of Oregon is already considering such a measure. That’s just at the state level. Imagine being taxed twice, once from the state and once again from the federal government. A story referencing an interview with Transportation Department Secretary Ray LaHood mentions that the current administration is not planning to pursue a tax, but considers the idea something “we should look at.” Massachusetts officials are considering the idea as well, also according to the CNN article.

Why the GPS tax? We’re already taxed twice on gasoline. Well, as most taxes go, the unintended consequences are never realized until too late. More and more drivers are buying more fuel efficient vehicles which translates to less fuel being purchased at the pump. This reduces the expected income from the gas taxes, so the governments have to find those funds elsewhere. Of course, reducing spending would help maintain an even federal/state coffer but there has never been an publically funded entitlement that a legislature didn’t like. They say that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, but in this case the paving is being paid for from the taxpayers’ purses with the caring hand of government digging deeper and deeper into your wallet.

Gas Tax Avoidance Option!

This isn’t to say that GPS technology is all bad. GM’s OnStar Technology combines cellular tech with GPS to provide a level of safety and security for their customers. Currently, there is a commercial where the driver has been involved in an accident but is unable to call for help. An OnStar “Advisor” is able to communicate with the driver and contact emergency services, directing them to the exact location of the accident based on coordinates provided by the vehicle’s GPS. In one case in Wisconsin, GPS helped authorites find crash victims who had poor cellular reception.

On the other hand, stalkers are using the technology to better harass their victims, as is shown in this Arkansas news story. A simple Google search on GPS find victim uncovers the startling reality of this ill use for technology which continues the same argument as with guns– to paraphrase: GPS devices don’t stalk people; stalkers with GPS devices stalk people.

Like most technologies, there are positive and negative uses for a GPS device. For now, using a GPS is voluntary: you don’t have to purchase OnStar in your GM vehicle (or even purchase GM for that matter) or you don’t need to purchase a cell phone with GPS already built-in. Eventually, though, GPS technology will be in almost every electronic device– for good or ill– and we as a society should be more aware of the impact that such advances can have on our privacy. In this day of Facebook, YouTube and other social applications we are becoming desensitized to our neighbors’ everyday goings-on. Many do not worry about identity theft because their identity is already public. Heck, from what I’ve seen on Facebook and YouTube there are a lot of people whose identity I wouldn’t want to steal! It’s bad enough I’m on Twitter. The question no longer becomes “Where do you want to go today?” but rather “Who do you want to know where you are?” Too soon this question will be moot.

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