We started off the week of (American) Thanksgiving with a death in the extended family last Sunday.

Dealing with death isn’t easy at any time of year, but directly over a holiday week is much more challenging. Before we heard the news, we were already juggling the end of a pinball tournament trip, a minimum of two big meals with different family groups, and a probable bar night with cousins. With a death in the family, we added two more long days of people and events.

There are many things to be thankful for in this world, and family and friends top my list. But if I were asked to choose a runner up, this week, it would be the GPS.

I’m old enough to remember navigation without GPS. Options included:

  • Buy a map at the book store, gas station, or pharmacy, then try to find the address of the place you were going on the map (hopefully it had block numbers on the roads) and use it to navigate. Works best if there’s a second person in the car.
  • Navigate to a new place by getting instructions from your Great Aunt Matilda who will lead off with “go down a ways to where the old tree used to be…” and pray you can follow them. Or that your navigator can.
  • Drive to where someone who knows how to get somewhere is, then follow them through traffic. Hope they know what they’re doing and don’t drive faster (or slower!) than you’re comfortable.

None of these are great options especially when you consider that all of these options predated widespread use of cell phones.

This week, I drove from North Carolina home to Pennsylvania. I drove to a funeral home I’ve never been to before in a town I rarely visit. I drove to two restaurants that I knew how to reach but that most of the folks I was dining with did not. I drove to a church I haven’t visited in probably a decade. I drove home from all those locations in the dark, through traffic, in some cases with no knowledge of where the nearest gas station was or what to do if a road was closed due to an accident.

I don’t think I could have done it successfully without GPS.

Just the sheer knowledge that I can look at a screen and say “here I am in relation to [X] in the world” is an amazing privilege granted to me by people — starting with physicists and ending with application designers and developers — who will never know who I am or how grateful. Without their innovation and hard work, this week couldn’t have been as smooth. And while there are certainly unethical and immoral uses for GPS technology, the use of this technology has been way more positive than problematic.

Thank you, everyone, for GPS.

Author: Anne Gibson

Anne Gibson is a Senior Staff Product Designer and General Troublemaker working on design systems from outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She's an editor and writer at The Interconnected. She is also published at A List Apart and The Pastry Box, and publishes short fiction when she's not persuading the terriers to stop wrecking things. (The terriers are winning.)