I’m a little bit fussy when it comes to directions – driving directions, that is. In most cases, I find directions (given by other people) to be unhelpful – I prefer to just get an address and then use either the atlas/map books I have in my car, or Google Maps to find my way. Strangely enough, as an admitted gadget freak, I shun the use of GPS systems.
Why is this, you might ask? Let me explain.
Long-time readers of this blog will remember that I used to work as a courier in the city of Boston and surrounding areas. Because of this, I learned to find my way around with nothing but a map and an address for the destination. This was in the days before GPS units became common as they are today (although they did exist at the time, I just could never hope to afford one). Additionally, a GPS unit takes time to input a destination, and if you get off track… well, sometimes they’re good at getting you back on track. And sometimes they take you by very strange routes. (Just Google for some stories of GPS units taking people down streets that don’t exist, or telling them to turn off of cliffs – and some people just blindly follow these directions!) As a courier, having a map with a clear view of all the surrounding streets – the “context,” so to speak – was far more helpful than turn-by-turn GPS navigation. So, this might have some bearing on my “direction preference.”
However, I’m also a computer programmer by trade – and computers, as you may or may not know, are very literal. When writing code, you better say exactly what you mean, because the computer doesn’t have any intelligence to figure out what you meant. It will follow your directions precisely.
As such, dealing with ambiguity is a big part of my work – ambiguity is what causes computer systems to fail, what causes good ideas to become lousy programs, and the main reason that people find certain user interface systems difficult to use. So basically you could say that I abhor ambiguity. And most written or verbal driving directions are inherently ambiguous.
Now, I’m not picking on people’s inability to state precise driving directions here – after all, we’re only human! And to state directions as precisely as would be needed to eliminate ambiguity would require such verbosity that you might as well just walk randomly around the Earth, hoping to arrive at your destination, because that would be faster.
Now, atlases and map books are not perfect – roads change, maps can be inaccurate, and road signs can be misleading – but when I’m navigating to a location using only some maps and my own brain, if I get lost, it’s entirely my fault. And as a programmer, I prefer it that way – it’s more natural to me. After all, if a program crashes, it’s not the computer’s fault – it’s mine, for not writing the code correctly.
And that’s why I’m such a stickler when it comes to getting directions from people. Unless I know them very well, and trust their directions to be accurate to the level I require, or if there are special circumstances that require first-hand directions (strange street layouts, construction, or what have you), I’ll just ask for the street address, and find my way there on my own. I’m not trying to be difficult, it just works out better that way in the end.