May 20th, 2009
09:34 AM ET

Dear President Obama #121: Lost in Space

Reporter's Note: I was never a particularly enthusiastic letter writer until President Obama asked the citizens of this country to give him ideas. Since his inauguration, I have penned a letter a day to the White House. I suspect this may be a form of mental illness.

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Tom Foreman | Bio
AC360° Correspondent

Dear Mr. President,

So you are stepping up the fuel efficiency standards for cars, are you? Good for you.. Whether gas prices are high or low, making natural resources go farther always seems like a smart move. That’s why I keep an extra sandwich in my computer bag; you never know when the jelly wells might run dry. On the other hand, what good is better mileage going to do for us if we don’t know where we are? I was floored today when I read about this government report warning that Global Positioning Systems could start failing next year if the Air Force does not step up its support for the satellites that make these systems work.

How will I navigate to the 7-11 for a newspaper if I can’t get instructions from space on where to turn? The stars? How will I get to my favorite Vietnamese restaurant without the soothing tones of Sasha (that’s what we call the disembodied GPS voice in the dashboard of our Mazda) calmly describing every bend in the road?

Candidly, I’ll be ok if this information breakdown comes, because I remember when Americans ventured forth with nothing but enchanted documents that contained the mysteries of geo-location. We called them maps. Huddled beneath yellow dome lights, we would peer at tangles of red, blue, and black lines spreading across Missouri; and mutter over the roar of passing cars, “If we stay on 4, we’ll reach 23. Then if we turn north, that should take us into Licking. That is, if we are currently west of St. Louis instead of east. Which I think we are.”

I know that sounds as primitive as casting chicken bones now, but by the same token, I don’t recall vast wandering herds of lost motorists back in the pre-GPS days. We made it work. Do all of us need GPS in our cars? Of course not. We don’t truly need radios, iPods, cellphones, or toasters either. These are, in fairness, luxuries of a wealthy society.

Still, this “GPS-maybe-on-the-verge-of-failing” report is precisely the kind of thing that makes people grow wary and frustrated about new technology; and that may…may actually matter. Because an awful lot of your ideas about powering up our economy, going green, and working toward energy independence will require millions of Americans to have faith in new technologies; or at least newer than GPS. And it won’t help much, if we don’t keep the old ones working.

Speaking of working, I just had a late assignment tossed onto my desk, and I don’t know where to start! Aghhh! Where is my GPS? Ha!

You know I have a cellphone too btw, and you are always welcome to call.



Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

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