Road tripping in the not-quite-digital age

Road tripping is a 2000-word article detailing the difficulty of trying to live digitally while on the road.


You might wonder why I’m consulting a tattered paper map of southern Utah when my husband and I have $5000 worth of state-of-the-art electronic gadgets in the car with us.

Our brand-new GPS just tried to kill us. Granted, it was a feeble, half-hearted attempt, but now we know it has the same homicidal tendencies as its predecessor and we can’t trust it.

When other vacation plans fell through, we made a spur-of-the-moment decision to take a meandering southwest road trip. Right now we’re driving through the desert on two-lane Highway 24 in Utah in search of Goblin Valley State Park, an enclave of strange lumpy rock creatures that my friend insisted we visit.

The GPS speaks. “Turn left in point three miles.”

My husband and I stare into the distance. Nothing but scrub and heat mirage. “Hmpf,” we both grunt without conviction as we slow.

“Turn left in 500 feet,” the machine commands.

We continue to slow, and when the car avatar passes the “road” we are supposed to take, there isn’t so much as a cow path on either side of the hot asphalt.

“Great. Now what?”

I stare down at the map and try to guess where we are based on our speed and distance from the last town. The state park is a small green dot west of the highway, and I’m worried we missed the exit. I can’t double-check our position on my iphone–I’ve had zero bars for at least half an hour. This shouldn’t surprise me; I’ve seen the splotchy red and white maps of the United States the cell providers flash at the end of television commercials, and I know white means no service, but until now these dead zones have been a few blocks of inconvenience in a dense urban environment, not hundred mile swaths. We become obsessed with our lack of internet and use our iphones like Geiger counters, waving them around the car searching for coverage.

What a strange, in-between time this is for the traveler. We’ve grown impatient with static, paper-based media, but it will be years before we can count on having worldwide access to live, rich, digital content.

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