Shut Up, Ethel – I’ll Do It Myself

At one point, doing about 65 mph, I was tempted to throw Ethel out of the car.

Ethel had steered my wife and I very wrong. During a trip that was supposed to take us past Washington, D.C., we ended up getting a nice view of the Washington and Jefferson monuments, as well as a reasonably complete tour of the district’s northeast quadrant. All because we listened to and heeded Ethel’s advice.

At one point, with a major traffic jam dead ahead on the Beltway, Ethel gave me some quick advice on how to avoid it. Within seconds, I was on a brand-new section of highway marked for high-occupancy vehicles only, and with a toll.

“Dammit, Ethel,” I told her, figuring I was going to get a chewing out and perhaps a fine when I hit a toll booth getting off the road. Fortunately (I thought at the time), the road was so new there were no toll booths.

There were traffic cameras, however. Their human operators sent me a nice picture of my license plate, with a notice I owe the D.C. government $12.80.

Ethel is the name my wife and I have given the woman’s voice on our GPS device. You type your destination into the GPS, then sit back and relax as it gives you turn-by-turn instructions on how to get there.

But with regularity, GPS devices aren’t accurate. An Ohio County resident who lives near W.Va. 88 has a sign beside his long driveway, advising motorists to turn around, because “Your GPS Is WRONG.”

Finally, we unplugged Ethel, just to shut her up. Then, I used my natural compass and common sense to get out of Washington and back on the road I wanted. Took about five minutes. I’d still be there if I’d continued listening to Ethel.

But it got me to thinking: How many young people, dependent on electronic gadgets to think through tasks for them, either can’t accomplish those jobs at all or require much longer than their elders – who had to learn to use our heads?

Think about the store clerk who can’t make change without punching the numbers into her computerized cash register. Or the thirtysomething fellow who relies on the Internet to help him how to build a campfire.

How many people have become dependent on electronic devices, the way some of us rely on combining our educations, experience and common sense to solve problems?

This is progress? I’m not entirely certain of that.

Myer can be reached at: