This was going to be a post extolling the wonders of Google Maps. It is, even in 2015, an amazing achievement, both in its worldwide breadth and functionality. Plus the fact that it's free, and that its nearest competitor Apple Maps is so god-awful terrible, gives it an enduring wow factor. So I am loathe to criticize.
And yet on numerous occasions--today for example--Stewart and I have found ourselves in the Google Maps deception zone: those areas of smaller, typically older European villages where Google knows where the roads are, and their names and directionality, but doesn't know that they aren't used for autos anymore, or at least that being the case a good portion of the time. This afternoon we found ourselves on a cobblestone street in Vipiteno, Italy, that was packed with pedestrians shopping and celebrating the season, but not a single car in sight, and clearly no room for any. But there we were, popped out of a narrow alleyway and nowhere to go. Heads bowed and no other option before us, we continued. It took us nearly ten minutes to travel the 150 meters of shame, with all those pedestrians staring coldly and disapprovingly at us, to get to a normal roadway.
Google doesn't let on that it knows where the deception zones are, and so it doesn't route you around them or otherwise provide warning. You have to be on high alert, keenly sensitive to the often subtle changes of pedestrian traffic, the asphalt turning into brick or cobblestone, or the already narrow streets of Europe getting progressively more narrow. That's the other thing Google seems not to be aware of: the width of streets. We have been on more than one street in Italy, following the direction of the Google Maps Lady, when we got so nervous that we had to pull in the side-view mirrors on our Toyota YARIS. A YARIS.
One additional critique, speaking of the Google Maps Lady. She is always polite, never shrill, and she never lets doubt creep into her voice. She is prompt, and she unfailingly states what her algorithm tells her is the correct route to go. But to her, every word is an English word, pronounced using English grammar rules. And so with every trip I take with her, she is a constant reminder of what I must sound like to the Europeans who silently wince as I butcher my way through their their language.
All right, that's it. I do not want to bite the hand that navigates me, because Google Maps has saved my collective and figurative bacon on innumerable occasions. Despite her flaws she knows far more than I do--most of the time--about where I am and what lies ahead. But I've now developed a healthy suspicion, a cautious tone to counterbalance the undeniably confident voice emanating from my iPhone. Because the deception zone is not a good place to be.