Last night, I drove home from Mountain View to Santa Monica, a drive that takes almost 6 hours to do. I know how to make the drive in my sleep, but I like having my GPS on, mostly to tell me when I'm getting home. ("12AM? Better have another coffee...")
The GPS in question is a 128MB unit, so you have to shuffle which parts of the US are loaded into it (a rather difficult process with lots of copy protection). And after loading the device with information about how to get to Arizona a couple months ago, I'd forgotten to ensure that my entire route was loaded before I left last weekend.
Lorna and I have nicknamed this GPS "Marilyn", which is really a perfect name for it. Sometimes, you see, it's Marilyn vos Savant, and sometimes it's Marilyn Monroe. This was a "Monroe" night...
As I set off down Hwy 152 to go from the 101 to the 5 (which saves a half hour compared to any other route to LA), my GPS started complaining, "Make a U-turn", "Turn Right". Every two miles it would complain, making my time estimate later & later. It very simply wanted me to return to the 101.
I suppose the poor thing just thought I was driving off the edge of the world, and it was just trying its very best to keep me safe. But even as we neared the 5, turned south to LA, it was still asking for me to turn around - estimated time of arrival was past 2AM by then.
Finally, about 20 miles down the 5, it realized we would actually arrive two hours earlier by taking the route we were on, and it quieted down.
But this very strange thing happened to me in the meantime.
Confident repetition of something that's false has a rather big psychological effect. Despite knowing better, I started imagining that my GPS knew of some awful traffic jam or road construction ahead, or maybe the I-5 was closed half way to LA, or maybe I was just deluded and heading towards Sacramento. Maybe there was a reason that this silly GPS was repeating itself so much.
And it made me nervous, which of course I could rationalize away. But there was just that tiny feeling that maybe, maybe I was going entirely the wrong way, and maybe I should turn around.
It made me think that this is the very powerful effect that confident leaders have on people, and that maybe it wasn't always a good thing. If a little computerized voice could make me doubt my own sense of direction, what could a confident person do?