December 13, 2012

Here we are! (Paul McErlane/Bloomberg )

The Google Maps app is now back on the iPhone.

You can release that breath that you have been holding. 

Poor Apple Maps. It took a tortuous path, full of twists and turns that were not adequately described in the directions, ending in firings and apologies. It directed us to take a long walk off a short pier. We returned the favor.

But now we have Google Maps for iPhone, and everything is going to be all right. It’s already the most-downloaded app in the store

I am only exaggerating slightly when I say that the instant I downloaded Google Maps, my life started to fix itself. Prior writers who called it “fantastic” and praised its “polish and intelligence” were just scratching the surface. It is revelatory. I want to hop into a car and drive and drive and never stop. And I will know my precise location at all times as I do so. 

This app understands where I’m coming from. It knows where I’m going. It tells me all the stops I will pass when I’m going there. 

I’ll never be lost again. I won’t even be bewildered. It’s physically impossible.

For a little while, I held on to my scant geographical knowledge, realizing that it might come in handy if Apple Maps tried to direct me to turn left where there was no left, or merge onto a ramp where there was no ramp. 

I will miss that about Apple Maps, its stubborn insistence that certain things existed of which I could see no tangible evidence. Perhaps, I pondered, the on-ramp was within me. 

I liked being forced to confront my narrow view of the nature of reality. 

Now, thanks to Google Maps, I am shutting off the directional intelligence section of my brain entirely. It was small to begin with. Put it this way: if I ever had to migrate anywhere, I would go extinct. Judged on my awareness of my surroundings and ability to avoid bumping into things, I compare unfavorably to a Roomba.

But I don’t need a sense of direction any more. I don’t need to know where west is. I understand that if I ever need to find it, it will be where the sun sets, but seeing a sunset would require me to look up from my phone. With Google Maps, I can visit any street in any city in any country in the world, and I will not have to look around me a single time. This is what I have most craved. The freedom to travel and not get lost anywhere, never have to look around me, and never interact with a single human being in a strange place, ever again. 

It used to be that you stood out as a tourist in new cities because you were always consulting your map. Now, you blend right in with the other crowds of millions of people refusing to glance up from their phones. 

I will never be lost again. Until it runs out of batteries or I lose my Internet connection. Then, I’m screwed. 

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.