The annual mileage toll on Henry the car is 18,000 miles.
Most of the time I know where I am going and how to get there.
But I also get lost after making the wrong turn or taking an exit on an out-of-state highway.
Then it s turn around, ask someone at a service station who usually doesn t know any more than I do, and hopefully correct the mistake. My pal, Digby, in the back seat never complains.
There also are the frequent times, especially in spring, when I just get in the car, start the engine, and decide to take an uncharted trip. It may be to northern Michigan, or west into Indiana. It s been a long time since I drove to Shaker Village in Kentucky or to Lancaster, Pa., to see a Biblical play at the Sight and Sound Theater.
Which is the best route? I hate maps.
The question is, do I qualify for a vehicle navigation system, or should I save the $300 to $500 and the headache of learning more technology and just continue to wing it?
Can I afford a modern gadget that I have lived very well without, driving several cars over thousands of miles?
How important is it to stay abreast of technical advancement that supposedly is designed to make ordinary tasks easier? Can I handle one more instruction manual?
Let s begin with one of the fi rst trendy products we purchased because it was guaranteed to make cooking easier and faster.
Everybody had to have a microwave oven in the early 60s.
Now let s be honest. Did we ever really learn how to use the marvelously fast oven, and has it been relegated to being a warmup appliance? Sure, we would miss pushing the buttons to heat coffee, cook potatoes, or warm up leftovers, and we can t imagine a kitchen without one, but
I doubt that many owners use their oven to its fullest capacity.
Enter the computer. It required learning a whole new way to communicate. We invested in a desk-top model, then we had to have a laptop because we couldn t leave home without a computer. We signed up for classes with hopes we could outshine friends in computer skills, or at least learn enough to rationalize the cost.
E-mail communication was a welcome substitute for telephone calls. A short, to-thepoint e-mail message eliminates long, windy conversations.
Personally, I still prefer the telephone for business and personal conversations.
It s panic time when either of my computers goes on the fritz and I am forced to call for help.
There are many steps I can t do despite years of practice, and probably never will at this point.
The collection of high-tech equipment includes the digital camera that requires many hours of study if it is be used successfully. After three years I still have a lot to learn from the tattered manual pages. Just this week, when the camera failed at a crucial moment because the batteries gave out, I vowed to go back to the old 35 millimeter point-and-shoot camera. Then I could go back to using real film, take it to the store, pick up the developed photos an hour later, and look through them.
Now that I review the old procedure, it is beginning to have more appeal than asking a store employee to show me one more time how to use the memory stick in a push-button machine to pick and discard photos on a screen.
Do I need the cell phone that I forget to charge and often can t find in my purse? Sometimes I have to dial the cell phone number on the house phone to find it. This is my fifth model since the craze hit in the 80s, and I can t imagine being dependent solely on the house phone.
Now here I am in an electronics department looking at navigation systems that plug into the cigarette lighter. It would be company on the road because it would talk while giving the right directions. All the maps in the car would be obsolete.
Here are some of the points of sale I jotted down on three models of vehicle navigation systems:
Downloads from a digital camera. MP3 music player. Announces streets by name. Translates foreign languages. Also has maps of Canada. Alerts drivers to upcoming speed zones. Effortless and portable right out of the box in any car. Detailed maps help you find your way around big cities or across the country.
You ll never be lost again. The real test would be if the technical navigator knows where Posey Lake, Michigan, is. That would really make me a believer.
Mary Alice Powell is a retired
Blade food editor.
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