Monday, May 7, 2012

Getting Lost

Every ten years or so, my family scrounged up the resources, traveled the short distance to Tattersalls Books next to the Bruno's store in Conyers and bought the latest edition of the Atlanta Metro Map book. About $100, 300 pages of maps, roads twisting from page to page, zip codes, rivers, the imagination running wild as to what was actually on those streets. What landmarks made the road builders make Atlanta's streets as they did, curved and hilly, with no seeming reason as to their existence? And we could travel down the myriad of Flat Shoals Roads or Peachtrees until we no longer knew where we were, or mistaken Ronald Reagan Blvd. for Ronald Reagan Parkway (which I have done) and wound up at a dead end late at night, with only the lights of the billboards to show us home. That's why the Map book was so necessary. It was our guide, our lifejacket in the middle of paths that went absolutely everywhere. But, of course, this was before the days of readily available internet connections, before Technopoly took over even these corners of our lives.

Last week I went with the Friends of the Nancy Guinn Library (Conyers, Georgia) to the FOGL conference in Cumming. It was my first trip in a car with a GPS system. It also strengthened my resolve never to purchase one of those for my car. It infuriated me, the logical ability it had to get the van (and it's driver) from one place to another. Because I, for one, want to get lost.

When I was little, I would be in the car with my mother, and we'd be going to the store, or to some doctor appointment. I'd look out and see roads going parallel, across, and away from me. I saw the houses, the businesses, all foreign to me, new, unexplored. "Mom, where do those roads go?" I asked, constantly. Take SW 15th street, for instance, away from our neighborhood, it became a dirt road and went into a forest next to a creek. And while my parents told me it didn't go over the river, it never kept me from dreaming exactly where it went. I don't think I ever went down the road myself, and maybe that's for the best. The unknown is so much more Romantic than what is traveled.

Detmer Highway, Yukon Territory, Canada
But there is nothing that is unknown now, not with the Internet within easy reach of our fingers at every moment. Google Maps has taken satellite images of almost every corner of our globe. I've talked about walking down a highway in the Yukon Territory in Canada, with the mountains in the foreground and the grass ranging forever to my side. I've traveled the streets of London, wondering who lived in those houses, what their lives were like. And so there's still the sense of the unknown, even when sitting at the repository of everything known. The GPS system, however, totally removes all Romantic notions of traveling down strange roads. Your path becomes a straight line, purple, with a British accented guy informing you of the way, as if God was speaking directly to you. There is no other path but Garmin, or Tom Tom. There is no getting in the car and cruising down the interstate, with the feeling of never wanting to get off of it, of traveling forever into the distance, to the ends of the Earth. Now it is point A to point B, and then, "You've Arrived!" What a feeling, to worship a piece of technology because we've gotten to our destination without using our brains. Perhaps that's what people want to do now, in all aspects of life. And now, I want to digress.

Technology has substituted for us every simple thing we do in life, except breathing, I guess. Need to balance your checkbook or make change at the cash register? Why, we have calculators and tills that do that. It's no longer necessary to do any menial task like addition and subtraction, especially not in our heads. I remember going to a Virginia McDonald's near the Virginia state line some years ago. They had just installed monitors at the check out lines, and so the workers there had gotten into the habit of not remembering anything about our orders. So it was look at the monitor, get one sandwich, look at the monitor, get the fries, look at the monitor, get the drink. Each order took 10 minutes at least. They let technology take over for their memories. And this happens all the time. The number of people who can repeat their cell phone number, or ones for their churches or businesses, are dwindling, because they easily have them stored on their cell phones. There is no longer a need to remember phone numbers. And it's not just actual electronic devices. We have devices to take care of any thing that might be the least bit taxing. I once saw, while cleaning my mom's office, a letter folder. That's right, a machine that folds a piece of paper exactly into thirds. And then there's the shirt folder (now, honestly, I can't fold shirts to save my life, so I don't try.). There's an electronic pepper shaker, so that we don't have to actually grind and shake the pepper ourselves.

 It's not just the idea that we are getting lazy, which we are, but that we are substituting technology, even in the simplest form, to do every task that we have done in the past. And for what cost? How much resources does it take to create these things? What plastic, what oil? I'm not environmental by any means, but we have been used to purchasing any device that might make our lives easier, and sacrificing those materials to do it. How long will those things sit in our landfills when, inevitably, we throw them away for something better? Why bother typing a text when we can speak into our phones and keep from typing all together. Soon the art of typing a letter will go the way of handwriting. It will become useless. The main purpose of all this? Capitalism. Producing things that cost money in order to feed our need to save time, money, labor, all the things we usually wind up wasting anyway because of these objects. Debating whether this is a good thing or not, Capitalism, I mean, is a whole other blog.  But again, I digress...

Back to getting lost.  I never take the same way home that I took going wherever it is that I am going.  Which makes coming home so much more fun.  My mom and I often go to Southern Gospel concerts here in the Atlanta area.  And it often is that leaving the church or the Gwinnett Arena, the roads we came in on are blocked off.  We have to make a right instead of a left.  If I had a GPS system, it would automatically adjust and take me on a path straight home.  But what most people should know is that, if you look at Atlanta like a spoked wheel, it is impossible to remain totally lost for long.  You're bound to run into an Interstate or GA 400 or something, so driving home becomes an adventure.  Turn the car in the direction of the spokes, and go.  We were at a singing in Gainesville, and, heading west, we drove over Lake Lanier, over a beautiful blue steel bridge, and drove through little towns and hole in the wall restaurants, and we hit 400 and came south.  I wasn't lost.  I was just not in a hurry to get home.  When my family went to New Orleans to see Oklahoma lose to LSU in the Sugar Bowl several years ago, going home I went the wrong way and we ended up crossing Lake Pontchartrain, on a bridge that took you away from land, so far out that you could see nothing but the lake.  It was also a bridge that was destroyed a few years later by Hurricane Katrina.  Getting lost allowed us to see the beauty of nature, the exaltation of mankind's creations, the harmony of both God and Man intertwined in this great country.  So maybe getting from point A to point B isn't enough.  Maybe hearing "You've arrived at your destination," is the worst part of the trip.  As a busting-minded animated girl once said, "The Joy is in the Journey." There is so much to see between the cradle to the grave.  Let's not take the shortest route. 

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