I was enjoying a post-wedding celebration in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo just a few days ago, late-night ramen that turned into later-night karaoke until we were kicked out of the place around 4 AM. A good night, to be sure.
As I was collecting my things, I checked my iPhone for the best route home -- I am perpetually lost in Los Angeles as it's a city that has no compass. It suggested a jaunt through Hollywood and on to La Cienega. In an effort to keep myself from sounding like an episode of SNL's "The Californians," I'll leave it at that.
So my phone presented me with a choice of two, maybe three routes as our mapping programs are trained to do. Given that it was 4 AM, I wasn't leaning in one direction or another, but I did pause at the thought of driving through Hollywood as the clubs were shutting down and they were also re-paving Sunset Boulevard.
My map programs will display traffic conditions. They'll display weather and alternate routes. The better ones will know if there's an accident on a particular route. In this case, though, I didn't know if Hollywood was shut down due to people hanging out in the street or if the LAPD was looking to nab some late-night partiers on their way home.
I checked Google and while the local news outlets weren't reporting any major construction or street parties, I was still skeptical. Despite it all, I gave the drive through Hollywood a spin. Turns out my drive home was uneventful -- peaceful, even.
And then I thought I had a great idea -- these things happen to me at 4 in the morning -- what if map programs and GPS systems culled the news and included it in locations in which it may affect local traffic? Say, if there is a major event going on at a stadium, it could monitor when the game ends and alert drivers to avoid those thoroughfares. Or if, in my case, it knew that there was some sort of emergency occurring in a particular area, and it would do the same?
That'd be great, right? Maybe there are even map programs that do this already. Certainly crowdsource mapping apps like Waze are getting us mighty close to what I'm talking about here, and there's no doubt the future of navigation includes more and more information to the point that many of us will be turning things off in order to... just get there.
No, this is not great. One look at Waze, for instance, and I see a plethora of icons, some telling me that traffic is slow (according to those who have time to tell others that traffic is slow), others telling me that a driver is nearby and I can chat with him or her (why?), others saying that someone saw a cop there within the past hour (probably gone by now) and still others inviting me to shop at Home Depot.
Now imagine a future -- and I can pretty much promise you this is coming -- in which our maps are filled with pins that say "Robbery being investigated," "Crazy 50% off sale here," "Stop by for free coffee," "Best bagels ever" and "Street protest, avoid!" It'll be a miracle we ever get anywhere.
Sure, we could turn those things off, but we all know we won't. We know too much. The internet is great, and crowdsourcing mixed with news aggregation is a great direction to take our mapping needs, but I have to ask: When do we reach the point of simply having too much information at our disposal when we should be paying attention to stop signs and pedestrians?
Joshua Fruhlinger is the former Editorial Director for Engadget and current contributor to both Engadget and the Wall Street Journal. You can find him on Twitter at @fruhlinger.