Wednesday, June 3, 2009


I am enjoying driving the Audi V6. It’s sleek, fast, maneuverable and comfortable, and in fact a wonderful piece of German technology. Vorsprung Durch Technik indeed. In fact I suspect that, as the car is so solidly built, its ancestors must have been super-charged Panzer tanks. I can imagine them hurtling in style across France, driving all before them, and stopping at the occasional rural café to recharge the coffee flasks.

But this car is different in my experience, because this car has navigation. I have never had navigation before, and never felt the need for it. Until now my navigating has been a good sense of direction, a well-thumbed road atlas, and one eye on the sun (the other hopefully on the road ahead.) But yesterday, having learned how to work and program this onboard computer, I tested it for the first time. A simple route.

On moving forward the first thing I heard was a voice telling me to “Follow the directions given,” and then “Follow the road ahead.” A female voice, not unpleasant, but with no particular accent. Perhaps I had expected an authoritative fraulein to tell me where to go, or was that just wishful thinking? Then, “Prepare to take a left in three hundred yards,” followed by, “Take a left now!” It was then that I thought I detected a slight note of superiority in that voice, as if to assert that she knew the way and I didn’t. And I began to wonder, and even anticipate her mood.

Of course the biggest test of her navigation and my nerves was deliberately disobeying her instructions, and turning the wrong way – which I did in Bridgehampton. Silence. Not a word, but glancing at the screen I saw that the route was being reset. Then the voice. “Prepare to take a right.” Was there a hint of exasperation? An echo of my preparatory school English teacher who would sigh before telling me, “Lewis, you may now stop staring out of the window and open your book.”

When we reached home there was a triumphant, “You have now reached your destination!” But to my ear it was slightly sardonic in tone, trumpeting the fact that she had done it despite my driving efforts. I reached to switch off the screen and a message appeared: It is dangerous to use navigation while driving. Yes.

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