Dissonance at Every Turn

Due to current traffic conditions your route has been changed.’ These words, spoken in dulcet tones and with casual indifference by the in-car GPS navigation system, are surely the scourge of motorists the world over. So it was once again this weekend The threat of a traffic jam on the route ahead caused me (and dozens of other vehicles armed with shark fin-shaped antennae) to leave the highway in the middle of nowhere.

The new route, as is always the case, was slow, winding, and punctuated with a string of traffic lights and agricultural vehicles. Again and again I found myself asking whether life would really have been more troublesome back on the highway. Such feelings are inevitable because, although I perceive the ‘loss’ of time and speed on the secondary road, I cannot perceive the ‘gain’ of the traffic jam avoided on the original itinerary. The same would be the case, if I had ignored the GPS message, stayed on the highway and possibly driven into the jam. In fact, as soon as the message is played, my cognitive dissonance is guaranteed.

So what should I do to protect my well-being from GPS-induced dissonance? The thing to do is to always follow the GPS instruction: dissonance belongs to he who had the idea in the first place. Although to follow the instruction or not is an active decision on the part of the driver, the commitment is clearly higher if one ignores a clear recommendation to take evasive action than if one heeds it. Stuck behind a tractor on a B-road, I can blame the stupid machine, but who would I blame if I discovered that an overturned fuel tanker was blocking the entire highway a couple of miles down?

GPS manufacturers could also help by building some empathy into the machine’s messages. ‘I could be wrong, but we might be better off on an alternative route,’ could be the new alert. And, if the new route turns out to be much slower than expected, the machine could lament: ‘Oh dear, I seem to have added needless minutes to our journey once again. I do apologise.

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