Text Patterns - by Alan Jacobs

Friday, July 31, 2009

the knowledge

Brian Cathcart, in Intelligent Life, on matters not unrelated to my previous post:

One day last year a daughter of Earl Spencer (who is therefore a niece of Princess Diana) called a taxi to take her and a friend from her family home at Althorp in Northamptonshire to see Chelsea play Arsenal at football. She told the driver “Stamford Bridge”, the name of Chelsea’s stadium, but he delivered them instead to the village of Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire, nearly 150 miles in the opposite direction. They missed the game.

Such stories are becoming commonplace. A coachload of English schoolchildren bound for the historic royal palace at Hampton Court wasted an entire day battling through congested central London as their sat-nav led them stubbornly to a narrow back street of the same name in Islington. A Syrian lorry driver aiming for Gibraltar, at the southern tip of Spain, turned up 1,600 miles away in the English east-coast town of Skegness, which has a Gibraltar Point nearby.

Two complementary things are happening in these stories. One is that these people are displaying a woeful ignorance of geography. In the case of Stamford Bridge, one driver and two passengers spent well over two hours in a car without noticing that instead of passing Northampton and swiftly entering the built-up sprawl of London, their view continued to be largely of fields and forests, and they were seeing signs for Nottingham, Doncaster and the North. They should have known.

The other is more subtle. Everybody involved in these stories has consciously handed over responsibility for knowing geography to a machine. With the sat-nav on board, they believed that they did not need to know about north or south, Spain or England, leafy Surrey or gridlocked Islington. That was the machine’s job. Like an insurance company with its call centre or a local council with its bin collections, they confidently outsourced the job of knowing this stuff, or of finding it out, to that little computer on the dashboard.

1 comments:

  • Isn't it just a little possible, though, that in the first example, the taxi driver just seized upon an ambiguous instruction as an opportunity of sticking it to the rich while also racking up a huge fair?

    It would be a bit like someone here in Missouri setting out for "Springfield", and failing to complain when they started seeing Illinois highway signs.

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