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Editor’s note: Technology, and the Christmas story I almost missed

By ,

I jumped into a cab last week, late for a holiday lunch. I told the cabbie the name of the restaurant and off we went.

Don’t you want the address? I asked, fumbling through my Blackberry as I searched for the information.

The cabbie, an old-timer, just laughed.

“I’ve been driving since before there were cell phones or GPS,” he said. “I’ll get you there.”

Instead of obsessing about right and left turns, we just chatted.

It’s easy to forget that getting around once was not so complicated.

Back in my college days, I used to deliver flowers. I had a map, but mostly navigated by landmark. Tell me where a place was near, and I could usually find where I was going.

On the few occasions I did get turned around, I could almost always hail a fellow delivery person for a little counsel. Postal people were enormously helpful; so were building managers and desk clerks.

I met a lot of people and learned more about where I lived than just about any other job I ever had.

There’s a lesson here. These days it can be so tempting to let technology do the work, and miss the bigger story about a place. On a recent trip to New York City, I could call up a map on my iPad or mobile phone, and plot to the minute my trip by subway to dinner and the theater, and know the exact fare ahead of time.

I appreciated the cold efficiency (not to mention the time and money I saved on cab rides). But somehow I appreciated more just putting the phone away as the night wound down, strolling into the middle of Times Square and getting swept up by the parade of people.

As it happened I was in town on SantaCon Saturday, when the streets were filled with hundreds of red-suited and oh-so-jolly Clauses, moving in boozy packs as they hopped from bar to bar.

This was a Manhattan I didn’t see on any map, and it made me smile.

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