I’m not one of those people that spend their time and money desperately keeping up to date with the latest technological marvel. I possess nothing foisted upon the world by Mr Jobs’ poisonous-apple-logo-bearing technological top-hat, and generally I am proud of my allergy to anything that begins with an “e” or an “i” when it has no business to. It’s not that I’m a Luddite, but novelty in itself is not enough to make me fork out the hard-earned. If there is something that I’m interested in and want to use, then I’m very happy to spend shed-loads as my wife’s incredulity at the cost of my camera kit will prove. But my camera kit is also as it happens a good example of my restraint in the face of mere technological sexiness. I have a Nikon D300 which I bought in perhaps obscenely rapid succession to its D200 predecessor. The improvement in quality and usability between those two models is quite marked: but when Nikon upped the ante with their full-frame D700 I told them metaphorically to stuff it up their jumpers. Of course the bigger sensor provided a further boost in performance, but on the other hand I can print perfectly well up to A3+ from the D300, and into order to take advantage of the D700 I’d have to buy a whole new set of much more expensive lenses. Not even a flicker of temptation has ever passed across my mind.
My lack of being anywhere near the cutting edge of the techno-wars meant that it was quite a long time before my consciousness even acknowledged the existence of the satellite navigation gadget. And when I finally did, in about 2006, it was only in order to be able to mock it. A friend and I drove to a destination only about 30 miles up the M1. I was to leave the car I was driving there, and come back with the friend. I said I’d bring a map. A look of pity overtook her as she asked me what I wanted to do that for. All I needed to do was to follow her, as she would be arriving courtesy of directions given to her by a Mr Thomas Tom. I should of course have brought the map anyway, but I was so humiliated by her disbelief that I was still thus wedded to the technology of Mr Caxton that I was too embarrassed to do so. Suffice it to say that I got a lot more practice in 25-point turns in tiny country lanes with the very large and unfamiliar saloon car that I was driving (a Mercedes or Jaguar or something like that) than I either wanted or expected. When we finally arrived at the house we’d already driven past three times headed in various directions, my scorn was unconfined. It didn’t help that the friend was a woman who had proudly told me that although she had no idea where she had actually been in her many trips in Thomas Tom’s robotic company, it didn’t matter since she always arrived on time and devoid of any trace of fluster. As I acidly pointed out, not quite always.
A large part of my scorn was concerned with the very point that she had presented as such a benefit. By blindly following the device’s instructions, the traveller builds up no mental picture of where he or she is. It is an inevitable road to dependency, and that’s the only road the user gets to know. I used the same irresistible logic on my wife when she applied for a subsidy to purchase one for herself. Actually, the logic wasn’t all that irresistible as she managed to resist it with the simple riposte that that was fine, but in advancing the argument I was also guaranteeing to get her to, or rescue her from, the location of her choice at any time of her convenience.
Thus did one of Mr Thomas Tom’s closest relatives come to take up residence in our house. And not so very long afterwards when I had cause to go to an unfamiliar street I thought maybe I’d save myself the trouble of looking up my trusty A-Z – and in that fateful moment I was sucked into the satellite navigator’s deadly embrace. But I have managed to keep some small semblance of pride in my headlong fall under its spell. I use it mostly when in France, and I never ask it to work out the fastest or most efficient route. Rather, I require it to tell me the shortest route, and in doing so its literal computer mind takes me down all kinds of tiny roads and offers me wonderful vistas that I’d never think to seek out if I were using a map. And so I love my SatNav, but I love even more making it an unknowing accomplice in my most romantic and inefficient self-indulgence.