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Digital reality

July 7th, 2009

I grew up studying maps, and paid attention to every highway, every town, every crossing of railroad tracks or a river. On a vacation, the map was my best friend. I knew where I was.

Today I am driving a motor home with a global positioning satellite. There is no confusion. I tell it where I want to end up and the female voice (my preference) tells me when to turn in 100 meters and for how long to remain on that highway before turning again in 100 meters.

It lacks soul. It is at arm’s length from reality. I have no idea where I am as I cross from Belgium into Germany. I’m not even sure what direction I’m heading (but I assume east or south). I am crossing grand rivers but don’t know their names. On the tiny screen of a GPS it shows only as a blue ribbon the width of a pencil.

Earlier in the day, we had typed in an address of a campground in Heidelberg, Germany, where we planned to spend the night. En route, we stopped at Trier, Germany, where we saw Roman ruins dating back to the second century. It was amazing, to touch stones that were cut and positioned more than 1,800 years ago to funnel people into the town, or to keep enemies out. On this day, 50 yards from the main Roman gateway, a Japanese man was selling his wire sculptures to tourists who were more interested in his designs than in Roman soldier’s architectural accomplishments 1,800 years earlier.. His soft wire trumped tons of cut rock towering above the town center.

In Heidelberg, we drove alongside a river. The GPS did not identify the river, but it was beautiful, cutting through the hills of western Germany, hills covered by a thick blanket of oak and maple and birch trees. We were entering the Black Forest.

We found a campsite – we’re not sure if it was the campsite that GPS wanted us to find. Daughter saw a roadside sign pointing to this one, and we drove in to check it out. It would cost 28 euro, and offered wi-fi for 2 euro an hour, and we were within 100 feet of the river, and we had full electrical hookup so we could play with the satellite TV. Ah, camping.

Daughter cooked us a fine dinner, and we explored our RV on our first night on the road – all of its luxuries and  practicalities. We’re not sure we figured out how to heat the water, and the fridge isn’t as cold as we would have expected, but the TV worked great, and Daughter’s cordon bleau with salad was great, and the Scotch was good, and the wine too.

Jeanne laid down as I began typing this blog, and started to chuckle. She was reading a Mark Twain book about western Germany, and it mentioned the great river that cut through Heidelberg. Finally, the river that on the GPS showed only as a blue ribbon had a name. We were camping in the Neckar Gorge, which according to Twain, afforded a most stunning view.

I asked Jeanne how she knew this, because I didn’t see her pack any books. She said she was reading from her Sony e-reader. And I’m still trying to get my hands around the day: watching satellite TV in a campground that I found through a GPS, alongside a river whose name I discovered from a digitally uploaded novel being read on an electronic reader..

I’m sure I could have seen the river by calling up Google Earth on my miniature laptop computer with its wireless  connection. But, you know what? I actually walked down to look at it.

It was lovely.

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