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Me and TomTom—True Love Always

Around Christmas, I met TomTom. We’ve been inseparable ever since.

TomTom, if you don’t know, is a portable GPS navigation system. It mounts on the car dashboard, and its voice commands guide you to your destination. For someone like me—I get lost finding my way back to the table after a visit to the restaurant bathroom—it’s a godsend.

Since we met, I’ve realized that he’s all that I’d ever want. And, as with any good relationship, he’s full of small surprises I didn’t even realize I’d want, but now find I can’t live without.

What’s more, he’s opened up new horizons for me, encouraging me to venture into places I would have considered off limits before he was my companion.

What’s all that if not the essence of a good relationship? Can you see why I love him? In fact, let me count the ways…

Trust. TomTom gets me from here to there with pin-point precision. With a sure voice, he guides me through this Left and that Right, always giving me plenty of notice when I need to take a turn. And, this may be obvious, but he’s never steered me wrong.

Reliability. Last week, in Los Angeles, it was TomTom who guided me—and my cab driver—from Beverly Hills to Tujunga. Naveen had just moved to Beverly Hills from Mumbai, and when I said “Tujunga” he thought I said “Topanga,” and it didn’t get any better from there. It’s a long story, but I’ll sum up: Good thing I had TomTom by my side.

Patience. TomTom reminds me— frequently but gently—when a turn is imminent. It’s not that he thinks I’m a child who needs reminding; it’s that he knows I have a lot on my mind. Or I’m yakking on the cell phone. Or filling the car with my own off-key but soulful rendition of Patty Larkin’s “Book I’m Not Reading.” He doesn’t lose patience. He doesn’t get shrill. He just makes himself heard.

Nonjudgmental. When I do forget a turn, or take the wrong one, TomTom doesn’t judge, doesn’t mutter under his breath, doesn’t sigh to express a kind of resigned but deep disappointment that suggests something is lacking at my very core. Doesn’t even—as my friend Laura’s Garmin does—emit a single, tired-sounding “Reconfiguring.” Instead, it silently figures a new path for me that signals to me, “No problem. Keep going. You’re okay. And you look great today, by the way.”

Tenacious. Occasionally, I take a turn that lands me in an unfamiliar parking lot, or on a road that TomTom (or his database) literally hasn’t been down before. Like any good partner, he stays right there alongside me. It may look to TomTom like we are driving clear across the town green, but that doesn’t matter. That’s when TomTom is most Zen: He doesn’t waver, even though the way isn’t clear, and there’s no discernable path we’re on.

Dreamboat? Mostly.

I can’t say things are perfect, though. Lately I’ve been wondering about the two of us. My own boyfriend—the flesh and blood kind—has grumbled about him. One time, when we were riding in the car together, TomTom told us to veer Right… when V had suggested we should stay straight. V, as it turns out, was correct, and the frosty silence that settled over us told me that we both knew I had taken TomTom’s side.

Pop psychologists scoff at the kind of dependency I’m developing with TomTom as something of a dysfunctional pattern. They might describe my reliance on him as “codependent”—one side of a relationship between mutually needy people.

I’m not so sure about that. Some of the most satisfying relationships in my life (with a partner, good friends or my children) have elements of codependence to them, assuming that I rely on their love or friendship to keep me sane, grounded, whole.

The problem might be when the love starts to stunt, when instead of encouraging new growth and fresh blooms in an individual, the love acts like clipping sheers to snip off any new little shoot.

And maybe that’s where TomTom leaves me cold: Each route he plans for me snips away at my confidence to navigate without him. His sole function in life, in fact, is to keep me from learning—for example, how to get from my home to my son’s school to his friend’s house in the next town without first needing to return home to chart the way.

Why bother? TomTom already knows. TomTom does it for me. TomTom takes care of me.

He’s the wonder—and the menace of technology: And I’m not sure I really care.

Total Annarchy

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57 Responses to Me and TomTom—True Love Always

  1. Sameer Vasta says:

    That may just be the most beautiful love letter ever written.

  2. Sameer Vasta says:

    That may just be the most beautiful love letter ever written.

  3. Shelley says:

    You forgot one:
    Indulgent.

    I’ll bet TomTom doesn’t mind one little bit when you need to make a Starbucks detour, does he? ;]

  4. Shelley says:

    You forgot one:
    Indulgent.

    I’ll bet TomTom doesn’t mind one little bit when you need to make a Starbucks detour, does he? ;]

  5. Ann Handley says:

    Thank you, Sameer. I wear my heart on my sleeve in this one… ; )

    Shelley: Right! Good point! He’s obliging as much as anything…!

  6. Ann Handley says:

    Thank you, Sameer. I wear my heart on my sleeve in this one… ; )

    Shelley: Right! Good point! He’s obliging as much as anything…!

  7. Liz says:

    Ahhh, new love… pure as virgin snow.
    But alas, the fringe starts to fray, the flaws and fallacies surface- but what a beautiful job we do rationalizing them all away (except the key flaw that “left you cold” :-)
    What I want to know is how’s TomTom with the toothpaste tube?

    a wonderful read as always!!

  8. Liz says:

    Ahhh, new love… pure as virgin snow.
    But alas, the fringe starts to fray, the flaws and fallacies surface- but what a beautiful job we do rationalizing them all away (except the key flaw that “left you cold” :-)
    What I want to know is how’s TomTom with the toothpaste tube?

    a wonderful read as always!!

  9. Beth says:

    I know a male TomTom devotee who chose a male voice, over the default female. He hated his flesh-and bones-female navigator giving him directions. How could a woman have a better sense of direction than he? He couldn’t even take it electronically.

    It says something that you chose a male voice. It shows your evolved state, being immune to such petty gender warfare.

  10. Amy says:

    I, too, am having a torrid affair with TomTom. It started last summer on my 40th birthday with me saying, “No, I couldn’t…” Now you would have to pry TomTom out of my cold, dead hands. My favorite thing about my relationship with TomTom is that I don’t have to think about directions. It frees me up to think about other things. There were times in my life when that was the ideal quality I was looking for in a relationship, too.

  11. Beth says:

    I know a male TomTom devotee who chose a male voice, over the default female. He hated his flesh-and bones-female navigator giving him directions. How could a woman have a better sense of direction than he? He couldn’t even take it electronically.

    It says something that you chose a male voice. It shows your evolved state, being immune to such petty gender warfare.

  12. Amy says:

    I, too, am having a torrid affair with TomTom. It started last summer on my 40th birthday with me saying, “No, I couldn’t…” Now you would have to pry TomTom out of my cold, dead hands. My favorite thing about my relationship with TomTom is that I don’t have to think about directions. It frees me up to think about other things. There were times in my life when that was the ideal quality I was looking for in a relationship, too.

  13. Ann Handley says:

    Thanks, Liz… not sure I’ll ever have to find out with TomTom… which is a blessing and the curse of our relationship, perhaps.

    Beth — Truth be told, I haven’t changed the default female voice.. haven’t figured it out yet. And anyway, it’s so soothing. But still TomTom is a “he” to me… guess it’s the name, or an indication that maybe I’m not so evolved!

    Amy — LOL…. !

  14. Ann Handley says:

    Thanks, Liz… not sure I’ll ever have to find out with TomTom… which is a blessing and the curse of our relationship, perhaps.

    Beth — Truth be told, I haven’t changed the default female voice.. haven’t figured it out yet. And anyway, it’s so soothing. But still TomTom is a “he” to me… guess it’s the name, or an indication that maybe I’m not so evolved!

    Amy — LOL…. !

  15. Mack Collier says:

    “Instead, it silently figures a new path for me that signals to me, “No problem. Keep going. You’re okay. And you look great today, by the way.”

    LOL! Hilarious! How cool would it be if they posted that on their website?

  16. Mack Collier says:

    “Instead, it silently figures a new path for me that signals to me, “No problem. Keep going. You’re okay. And you look great today, by the way.”

    LOL! Hilarious! How cool would it be if they posted that on their website?

  17. Great story! Ditto on Mack’s quote reference;
    Happily boosting our self-confidence once in a while. Perhaps TomTom’s next incarnation will be like a Furby, with an AI that evolves to your interaction. He/She seems by this story to already be personified…the branding and innovative potential is there.

  18. Great story! Ditto on Mack’s quote reference;
    Happily boosting our self-confidence once in a while. Perhaps TomTom’s next incarnation will be like a Furby, with an AI that evolves to your interaction. He/She seems by this story to already be personified…the branding and innovative potential is there.

  19. Dusan says:

    Yeah, I’ve had a vision once – the mobile/GPS/computer/watch things that are now separate will most probably be once represented as “buddies”.

    Which means you’ll get a device (most probably the size and shape of your design preferences) which will:

    – let you communicate with others in text/ausio/video/touch
    – manage your calendars and address books and…
    – get you the entertainment whereever you are
    – take you to the place you should be at (TomTom’s function)
    – take care of your medical status/fitness
    – take care of your food
    – do other stuff that “you don’t want to think about”

    Now this is a thing I would surely sell as “Your personal Buddy” and you can name it whatever your want later.

    Yet the questions you have exposed Ann are actually quite serious I think. This scenario can actually really change the way we work as a society. And if you consider the technical development that will be able to put this device in our bodies and connect them to our brains – wow, there’s a scary future for me.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/low/technology/7258105.stm

    Why? Because the very last thing I want is some programmer’s code in my body. Telling me what’s the best for me based on alghoritms and some mathematical ideas.

  20. Dusan says:

    Yeah, I’ve had a vision once – the mobile/GPS/computer/watch things that are now separate will most probably be once represented as “buddies”.

    Which means you’ll get a device (most probably the size and shape of your design preferences) which will:

    – let you communicate with others in text/ausio/video/touch
    – manage your calendars and address books and…
    – get you the entertainment whereever you are
    – take you to the place you should be at (TomTom’s function)
    – take care of your medical status/fitness
    – take care of your food
    – do other stuff that “you don’t want to think about”

    Now this is a thing I would surely sell as “Your personal Buddy” and you can name it whatever your want later.

    Yet the questions you have exposed Ann are actually quite serious I think. This scenario can actually really change the way we work as a society. And if you consider the technical development that will be able to put this device in our bodies and connect them to our brains – wow, there’s a scary future for me.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/low/technology/7258105.stm

    Why? Because the very last thing I want is some programmer’s code in my body. Telling me what’s the best for me based on alghoritms and some mathematical ideas.

  21. Whoah Dusan, I hope I never see a mega-converged GPS car unit like that! Whatever form it’ll take, it has to be incremental and of real value to users; something they can’t easily do with a PDA or phone, but rather integrates with the on-the-go car lifestyle. No novelty bells and whistles that simply resemble feature-creep! Per favore :)

  22. Whoah Dusan, I hope I never see a mega-converged GPS car unit like that! Whatever form it’ll take, it has to be incremental and of real value to users; something they can’t easily do with a PDA or phone, but rather integrates with the on-the-go car lifestyle. No novelty bells and whistles that simply resemble feature-creep! Per favore :)

  23. Toby says:

    Ann – sounds like a solution to my “non relationship” life. Big question – how does Tom Tom do around dogs like Max? Thanks for another wonderful post.

  24. Toby says:

    Ann – sounds like a solution to my “non relationship” life. Big question – how does Tom Tom do around dogs like Max? Thanks for another wonderful post.

  25. Ann Handley says:

    LOL: You know, this raises an issue I’ve been thinking about in my wackier moments since TomTom came into my life: what would really be cool is a mashup of GPS capability and some sort of spiritual/personal persona, who could whisper bits of encouragement along with directions. A mashup of Eckhart Tolle and TomTom, for example…lol… ?

  26. Ann Handley says:

    LOL: You know, this raises an issue I’ve been thinking about in my wackier moments since TomTom came into my life: what would really be cool is a mashup of GPS capability and some sort of spiritual/personal persona, who could whisper bits of encouragement along with directions. A mashup of Eckhart Tolle and TomTom, for example…lol… ?

  27. I think TomTom is a great addition to many people’s lives. It can be very empowering to those who have a horrible sense of direction. It cuts down on anxiety about travel, and it can actually help people learn new routes to places.

    Most importantly, it helps people actually arrive at where they want to be. For some direction-challenged folks in my life, I’m always thrilled when they eventually make it to my door. Some even on time! ;-)

    Isn’t this what we all want? Three cheers for you, Ann. Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness…and TomTom.

  28. I think TomTom is a great addition to many people’s lives. It can be very empowering to those who have a horrible sense of direction. It cuts down on anxiety about travel, and it can actually help people learn new routes to places.

    Most importantly, it helps people actually arrive at where they want to be. For some direction-challenged folks in my life, I’m always thrilled when they eventually make it to my door. Some even on time! ;-)

    Isn’t this what we all want? Three cheers for you, Ann. Life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness…and TomTom.

  29. Bethann says:

    I must admit, I am still a paper map person. I haven’t stepped into the electronic realm of navigation. It reminds me of Fahrenheit 451 – never learning, always relying on technology. I will use Mapquest for unfamiliar destination, but always go to the map. I’m a visual learner. Ann, you are a 21st century woman.

  30. Bethann says:

    I must admit, I am still a paper map person. I haven’t stepped into the electronic realm of navigation. It reminds me of Fahrenheit 451 – never learning, always relying on technology. I will use Mapquest for unfamiliar destination, but always go to the map. I’m a visual learner. Ann, you are a 21st century woman.

  31. Dusan says:

    Mario – I would sometimes prefer going back in time to non-electronical solution. :-) Yet I think the times will change radically.

    My Qtek already has all the options (calendar, map, contacts, phone, Skype,…) I want and it’s just a question of time when it will start telling me: “Don’t type this here. It’s better if you write some article there to earn some money.” :-)

  32. Dusan says:

    Mario – I would sometimes prefer going back in time to non-electronical solution. :-) Yet I think the times will change radically.

    My Qtek already has all the options (calendar, map, contacts, phone, Skype,…) I want and it’s just a question of time when it will start telling me: “Don’t type this here. It’s better if you write some article there to earn some money.” :-)

  33. Christian Gulliksen says:

    See, and I regard a navigation system more as a formal relationship with a Jeeves type who anticipates my needs and doesn’t get in my way.

    I always turn the voice off because I don’t like how it interrupts music. Four or five years ago, I nearly went out of my mind when I was driving a pre-production Range Rover without an owner’s manual and couldn’t figure out how to shut the thing up. I was on my way to a concert in BFE and this impossibly posh British woman kept interrupting Tsunami Bomb to tell me — repeatedly — that one exit or another was 500 meters away, 200 meters away, 50 meters away. Bah! I love the guidance when I don’t know how to get somewhere, but I’m really happy to leave it at an impersonal map display and some arrows.

  34. Christian Gulliksen says:

    See, and I regard a navigation system more as a formal relationship with a Jeeves type who anticipates my needs and doesn’t get in my way.

    I always turn the voice off because I don’t like how it interrupts music. Four or five years ago, I nearly went out of my mind when I was driving a pre-production Range Rover without an owner’s manual and couldn’t figure out how to shut the thing up. I was on my way to a concert in BFE and this impossibly posh British woman kept interrupting Tsunami Bomb to tell me — repeatedly — that one exit or another was 500 meters away, 200 meters away, 50 meters away. Bah! I love the guidance when I don’t know how to get somewhere, but I’m really happy to leave it at an impersonal map display and some arrows.

  35. Cam Beck says:

    I’m not sure how, but while writing this amusing tribute to technology, you also managed to make me a bit uncomfortable.

    Are we too reliant on technology that we will have become incapable of living without it?

    On one hand, automating certain tasks to machines may make us more efficient. But at the same time, we must wonder if the dependence it fosters can leave us without some necessary skills should we ever find ourselves without it.

    Amazing presentation, Ann.

  36. Cam Beck says:

    I’m not sure how, but while writing this amusing tribute to technology, you also managed to make me a bit uncomfortable.

    Are we too reliant on technology that we will have become incapable of living without it?

    On one hand, automating certain tasks to machines may make us more efficient. But at the same time, we must wonder if the dependence it fosters can leave us without some necessary skills should we ever find ourselves without it.

    Amazing presentation, Ann.

  37. lux says:

    +1 to what Cam B said.

    I get that a GPS is a big help if you can’t follow a real map, but the more you put vital skills into the hands of third parties, however benign, the more you increase the chance of something bad happening to you if those third parties go off line or become less benign.

  38. lux says:

    +1 to what Cam B said.

    I get that a GPS is a big help if you can’t follow a real map, but the more you put vital skills into the hands of third parties, however benign, the more you increase the chance of something bad happening to you if those third parties go off line or become less benign.

  39. Delilha says:

    I love my TomTom too Ann, and my only wish is that he came with a voice like Barry White and greeted me with a “Hey Baby, looking Goooood today” and a “Yeah baby, let’s turn here, together”. Sigh. My GPS has a drone of a woman’s voice; no fun and certainly not engaging.

  40. Delilha says:

    I love my TomTom too Ann, and my only wish is that he came with a voice like Barry White and greeted me with a “Hey Baby, looking Goooood today” and a “Yeah baby, let’s turn here, together”. Sigh. My GPS has a drone of a woman’s voice; no fun and certainly not engaging.

  41. Dusan says:

    Cam, there’s actually no way out. So we must embrace it and learn from experiences. The sooner, the better. If we don’t, the technology might actually make us inferior?

    It might sound sci-fi, yet we must learn to be ahead.

  42. Dusan says:

    Cam, there’s actually no way out. So we must embrace it and learn from experiences. The sooner, the better. If we don’t, the technology might actually make us inferior?

    It might sound sci-fi, yet we must learn to be ahead.

  43. Ann Handley says:

    There’s a great article in a recent New Yorker about tech gadgets subtitled, “What will the latest gadgets replace in your life?” It poses some questions similar to what we are talking about here.

    p.s. Good article, but unfortunately not a single mention of TomTom! Bah!

  44. Ann Handley says:

    There’s a great article in a recent New Yorker about tech gadgets subtitled, “What will the latest gadgets replace in your life?” It poses some questions similar to what we are talking about here.

    p.s. Good article, but unfortunately not a single mention of TomTom! Bah!

  45. danna Call says:

    I don’t know Ann, remember Hal in 2001 Space Odyssey…

  46. danna Call says:

    I don’t know Ann, remember Hal in 2001 Space Odyssey…

  47. But can TomTom shine your shoes??

  48. But can TomTom shine your shoes??

  49. Joe Cascio says:

    Hi Ann,
    I, too have become dependent on my GPS device. In my case, it’s a Garmin nuvi. I stuck with the default American English voice. I believe her name is “Jill”. Yes they actually give the voices names. I’ll bet you’d like either the British English male, Daniel, or the Australian English male, Lee.

    Now, if they would just make these devices with EVDO, so they could always have the most up-to-date maps, and know about traffic. :)

  50. Joe Cascio says:

    Hi Ann,
    I, too have become dependent on my GPS device. In my case, it’s a Garmin nuvi. I stuck with the default American English voice. I believe her name is “Jill”. Yes they actually give the voices names. I’ll bet you’d like either the British English male, Daniel, or the Australian English male, Lee.

    Now, if they would just make these devices with EVDO, so they could always have the most up-to-date maps, and know about traffic. :)

  51. Karen Swim says:

    TomTom sounds like the perfect man! Non-judgmental and knows directions. Where do I sign up!?

    Karen

  52. Karen Swim says:

    TomTom sounds like the perfect man! Non-judgmental and knows directions. Where do I sign up!?

    Karen

  53. Susan says:

    Got a tom-tom for chrismas, But I named her Daisey,You know, Driving miss Daisey.I just really wish I`d have had one many years ago.A lot of times I`d turn down invitations to go to unfamiliar places because I was afraid I`d get lost or not be able to find the place.Not good on the social life.But mainly I`m just glad I can go anywhere I want and not get lost.I`ll Never be without Daisey again!!

  54. Susan says:

    Got a tom-tom for chrismas, But I named her Daisey,You know, Driving miss Daisey.I just really wish I`d have had one many years ago.A lot of times I`d turn down invitations to go to unfamiliar places because I was afraid I`d get lost or not be able to find the place.Not good on the social life.But mainly I`m just glad I can go anywhere I want and not get lost.I`ll Never be without Daisey again!!

  55. Shelley says:

    NEWS FLASH: I just discovered that you can load Eddie Izzard’s voice on your TomTom!

    This ability alone might inspire me to buy one of these things, Ann…

  56. Shelley says:

    NEWS FLASH: I just discovered that you can load Eddie Izzard’s voice on your TomTom!

    This ability alone might inspire me to buy one of these things, Ann…

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