As I drive my rental car across Silicon Valley under a cloudless and starry sky, it is fitting that the electronic navigation device on the dashboard should be talking to me. "Approaching left turn," says Helga (as I call her). "Left turn in point five miles." Headlights rush past us, exit signs loom and are gone, and now it occurs to me that this freeway doesn't even have left turns. Helga is trying to show me something on a tiny, color-coded, icon-studded moving-map display at the edge of my peripheral vision. Up in the real world, we hurtle under an overpass. That wasn't my left turn, I hope. But yes, apparently Helga lacks perfect knowledge of California cloverleaf topography. "Calculating route," she chirps, as if we can simply begin again with no memory of the past. I am mindful of the German motorist who drove his BMW into the Havel River one night because he put too much trust in his dashboard navigator.
Still, we can't get lost. We are too well connected, Helga and I. She listens constantly to at least four of the two dozen satellites of the Global Positioning System: orbiting atomic clocks that bathe the globe in their precisely intermingled time signals, enabling any device skilled in trigonometry (and these days what device isn't?) to reckon its exact location. We are not alone here. My cellular phone, as long as it is on, parleys silently with the network, giving and receiving information about when and where we are. My hand-held Palm-type computer cum wireless ...
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