Where Do You Not Want to Go Today?

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This article was published by ComputorEdge, issue #2139, 2003-09-26, in the "Beyond Personal Computing" column, in both their print edition (on pages 28 and 30) and their website.

Today, 2 July 2033, is the first day of my family's summer vacation. That's what got me thinking about how much road trips have changed over the years. During the mid 1900s, families would spread out large paper maps, excitedly follow the bold lines of the interstate freeways, and argue about which tourist traps would be the most fun to visit. Their routes were often plotted using markers of various colors. Tiny stickers could be used for indicating those hard-to-find gems of Americana: the greasy spoon cafes shaped like spaceships, the enormous balls of string, and, for those traveling in Florida, the spaceships shaped like greasy spoon cafes. Things only got complicated when the stickers… didn't.

In the later part of the last millennium, the advent of the Internet made it easier for people to plan their trips using websites. Even still, they had to resort to printing the maps on paper, and not forgetting to put those maps into their SUVs (sport utility vehicles) before departing. But at least the drivers had complete control of their automobiles (cell phone usage aside). Things only got difficult when they later tried to actually read the miniature maps (made quite small by surrounding banner ads), and discovered that MapQuestionable.com didn't have all the answers.

But now in the 2030s, travel planning has been dramatically improved by technology. All of the maps, directions, and destination information can be downloaded from the Internet and read inside our electric vehicles. This allows us to plan the trip as we go, and skip the pre-departure arguments. Long forgotten are the printed directions to hard-to-find destinations, and the anger-inducing detours resulting from taking a wrong exit. It all gives new meaning to that old phrase, "Information Highway".

Of course, the travel itself is much more advanced nowadays. Every automobile is connected to the Internet, and driven by an onboard computer communicating with nearby cars, regional transit authorities, and commercial travel services. Steering wheels have been replaced with universal recognition of verbal directions (and joysticks for the mute and for the Luddites). Brake and accelerator pedals are no longer needed in these modern cars, which never exceed the speed limits. All of these vehicles are capable of automatically following any predefined route — essentially a series of GPS coordinates

This year, my family and I couldn't do the international travel that we had originally hoped for, because my wife's Microprivacy Passport had been hacked. Besides, with the world in the grips of an epidemic of WADS (weak American dollar scenario), limiting our travel to within the 51 United States was more financially attractive.

Still, we were all excited to begin our journey. After a quick breakfast courtesy of the kitchen's brand new Food Molder, we all piled into our GLUV (gratuitously large utility vehicle). The kids were quickly absorbed in the computer games they were playing on the thin color monitors built into the backs of the front seats. My wife and I smiled at each other, and agreed that there's nothing quite like fragging vicious monsters and splattering them with enormous guns, to keep the little angels quiet.

As we headed out of our small city (which took about two hours at 100 mph), I began using the trip planning wizard ("Interstate Explorer") displayed on our windscreen. The wizard encouraged me to download one of their prepackaged road trips. For some reason, regardless of which option I chose, the wizard kept asking me if I wanted to visit the suburbs of Seattle and spend our tourist dollars there. After barking "Cancel" too many times, I was finally able to begin selecting cities and parks from a rather limited list. My wife and I agreed on a number of destinations that sounded low stress and low-priced.

Once the entire trip had been planned, I downloaded it into our GLUV's navigation system, and put the vehicle on its aptly-named autopilot. While relaxing, I concluded that the only downside to using the Internet for travel planning, was the mess of inescapable pop-up windows displayed on the windscreen. Each one required a verbal command, "Cancel current window", which seemingly would be translated into "Cancel current window and create two more". It could get annoying. But, technology isn't free.

Our first destination was MegaMall, which featured drive-through shopping and robots to load the purchased items into the back of one's car. But long before we got close to MegaMall, our GLUV exited the freeway and stopped in the parking lot of a fast food restaurant. The door locks popped up, and our windscreen displayed a meal planning wizard ("Intestinal Explorer").

My wife asked, "Why did we stop here? It's not time for lunch yet."

Rather bewildered, I locked the doors. The locks popped back up, so I slammed them down. The computer instructed cheerfully, "Please make an order."

Through gritted teeth, I ordered "Computer, cancel current window and go to next destination."

After our GLUV drove us straight to another restaurant, and I played whack-a-mole with the door locks again, my wife and I realized that the travel plan created for us was littered with destinations from the companies that sponsored the planning service. She suggested, "Let's just use a paper map, and drive there ourselves."

Fast approaching the boiling point, I dug through our vehicle's contents, and eventually found a dusty old map. Its freeways were marked with faded colors, and it even sported several stickers showing my parents' favorite tourist traps from ages ago. But I realized that it was of no use since our car's computer could not read it.

My wife and I were unable to agree on how best to proceed, but we both concurred that we were now completely dependent upon the Internet for travel, and it certainly was not getting us to where we wanted to go. It was at this point that our youngest child whined, "Are we there yet?!"

Okay, so some things haven't changed…

Copyright © 2003 Michael J. Ross. All rights reserved.

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