How much time is left?
The question plays on repeat in my head every time I am driving a car and using Google Maps. I wasn’t as concerned about the time remaining in my journey before the advent of GPS. But it isn’t the map itself prompting the question. It’s the timer on the bottom left corner of the screen telling me exactly how many minutes I have left in my trip.
It is relevant information that causes unnecessary anxiety.
Once upon a time, I had only a rough idea of how long a car trip would take. I would consult maps or the most accurate of sources; my dad. To to this day, he knows how long a trip will take down to the minute. Using a combination of maps and my father’s knowledge I would hand write the directions on a large post-it and stick it to my dashboard.
During those days I would always have to estimate how much time was left. Looking at the clock on the dashboard I would wonder: What time did I leave? How long was this supposed to take? I was never entirely sure but most of the time I didn’t need to be.
But then GPS became not just a separate device but a built-in part of our phones. Turn by turn navigation made researching in advance unnecessary. Seconds before putting my car in drive I could input my destination and know my exact time of arrival. When traveling by one’s self it has been invaluable.
Except the “time left” in the trip has become a stressor for me. I hate it. It means my gaze does not stay permanently on the horizon. Instead, I am practicing mental austerity to prevent myself from checking the minutes left. I’m not enjoying my trip. I’m obsessing over how much longer I have to be in the car. I’m thinking about increasing my speed to shorten the trip or stretching out the time between gas and bathroom breaks.
How much time is left? How much time? How much?!
I wasn’t even aware of my feelings regarding travel time until my fiance and I drove across country last week. It was the first time I had ever done so and the longest car trip I had ever taken.
We covered 2,500 miles over the course of seven days from Hilton Head, South Carolina to Phoenix, Arizona. Roughly six hours of driving every day. We planned our trip to avoid rush hour and rushing in general. We wanted to actually see and experience the country as opposed to plowing through it.
And like we had done in other countries on road trips before, we bought a physical map. I love the deliberate nature of the road map. We have to do the work, find the cities, the roads and the way. We can’t just input a destination and ask technology to do the work.
Plan my trip pocket wizard!
Purchasing a large format atlas allowed us the perspective to see not only where we were at any one time but where we were between, which was often just as interesting. We saw the ridiculous names of tiny towns; alternate routes and where they meandered. All the information was in front of us at one time allowing us to choose the way.
It was a great shift from focusing on the levitating blue dot on a tiny screen provided by some benevolent space camera.
The tactile nature of the map is so very different than the phone screen. The large rectangular pages that cover my entire lap when I’m navigating, the smoothness and smell of them. It creates a much more visceral experience. We became explorers and guides, active participants in the decision making as opposed to complacent sheep following the instructions of my phone’s humanoid female voice.
Navigating by map is harder for sure. It highlighted my embarrassing impatience and my fiance’s perfectly timed map reading faux pas. We had more than our fair share of heated conversations. There is a big difference from the daily habit of calling each other hunny, and the weaponized way it came out of my mouth when we missed a turn for the third time.
We still used GPS. Most often when departing to find the correct highway, and when arriving to find our hotel. But the in-between, the hours and hours we spent driving through swamps, plains, wind farms and oil fields… we used the atlas.
I love how it requires attentiveness. It does not immediately volunteer your location. It demands you pay attention to your surroundings and match indicators to the map. Town names. City limits. Exit numbers.
But more than anything it does not provide the constant anxiety pangs of how much time is left. It does not trigger me to worry about the dark red line ahead which means traffic; an immutable fact we couldn’t prevent or avoid if we wanted to and whose existence would madden us until it dissipated.
The map only allowed us to focus on where we were going, where we had been, and our relative position between the two. The time left in the journey is irrelevant. It will sort itself out. And when I was freed of that concern, I was more able to enjoy the trip itself.
I stopped wondering when I would be able to get out of the car. I stopped caring about making good time. I drove the speed limit or even a little bit under to save on gas money. I cared less about who I passed on the highway, or who basically drove into my trunk to let me know they would like to pass me. There was a tremendous and glorious presence I think we both felt during the journey.
I only derive so much fulfillment from a precipitous increase in information. At a certain point, it becomes only another thing to consider and worry about. I felt the difference. Driving four hours with a map felt easier than two with the GPS. Perhaps it was psychological but my hips hurt less from sitting for so long.
I do believe it is worth knowing how far one needs to go, and how long it will take to get there. But to focus on that, to be faced with it every moment of the journey ultimately prohibits one from being present.
And while the tiny clock on the dashboard always kept me abreast of the time elapsed; I no longer cared.
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