Adventures in GPS

I wrote a blog not that long ago about my first experience with a GPS voice while trying to make it to Astricon one year, which was held in idyllic – but remote – Carefree, Arizona. My mind was too focused on the memo I was writing in my head (“must get voice-over demo to Garmin ASAP!”) to really pay much heed to turns, off ramps, or other recommendations the voice was giving me, until the cacti started disappearing along with any hope of ever making it to the resort by dinnertime. Part of my problem — being new to GPS systems – was being unfamiliar with the directional arrows or how literal (or figurative) the voice was being when suggesting routes and various turns. (“She says: Turn right on Saguaro, but…is *this* Saguaro? It’s not marked…”) Also, I had been given general directions by a client who knew the Sonoran Desert well, and his directions seemed…well…at odds with what “Trixie Garmin” was telling me. (Strangely enough, the establishment I finally turned into to get “re-coordinated” was a PetSmart store, for whom I voice the store finder system.)  I had gotten completely off course but I — and the GPS — were “recalibrated” and Trixie kept largely silent while I drove in an almost straight (but lengthy) line to my destination.

The issue of what *kind* of voice in a GPS system elicits a more compliant and “obedient” (for lack of a better word) response has been debated ad nauseum. Dr. Clifford I. Nass, a communications professor at Stamford University (and a consultant to many car companies), explains: “When the key dimension is competence, the male voice is better; when the key dimension is likability, the female voice is better.” 

(I’m not too sure why competence and likability need to fly free of each other, but I’ll retract my hackles and respect what he’s saying).

Female voices were originally used in auditory warnings  in military aircraft because they stood out among male aviator’s verbalizations — men were most likely to pay heed to the female voices in combat situations because there was minimal chance of them being mistaken from ambient male voices.

Dr. Nass continues: “The main reason you have female voices in cars in not the technical qualifications like hearability. It’s that finding a female voice that is pleasing to almost everyone is infinitely easier than finding a male voice.”

There you go. That’s more like it.

There’s been much written about which is more functional in a car’s on-board GPS system: sexy might be too distracting; too strident and authoritarian can be an alienating “naxigatrix” (word I cannot take credit for: coined this time last year in a New York Times article by Bruce Feiler.) Do men, in particular, appreciate getting direction — however sattelite-guided or well-founded — from someone who sometimes urges them to pull into the next gas station and recommend anathema to their ears: Ask For Directions?

Personally — and I am anything but an Apple evangelist (witnessed by my cadre of people on Facebook who responded with dozens of suggestions/admonitions/cheerings on when I threatened to run over the device repeatedly with my car if I got *one more* message saying there’s wasn’t a SIM card installed) — I have to say that the GPS utility in the iPhone pretty much makes me feel like Magellan. Taking into consideration that I make my living voicing automated platforms, and never denying that I am forever encouraging people to hire professional voices for their automation — I quite prefer me (or my auto) being represented by a pulsating, blinking blue dot, edging ever closer  to (or in some instances, away from) my destination. I have no natural sense of direction (I always presume that North is straight ahead of me; South is where I’ve just been…..you get the idea) — so to be able to look up an address on the iPhone and have me and my destination clearly situated on a map, me blinking all bright and blue (and heavy traffic areas strobing angrily in red) — pure simplistic and reliable heaven. I don’t even mind that I don’t have a human voice guiding me around (sounding profoundly irritated and exasperated as she says: “REcalculating!” or particularly getting my goat when she says “Turn left on Memorial Doctor.” Really? Doctor?…You do mean….Drive…right, lamby?)

Your GPS voice is a highly personalized issue — it’s completely your call as to who sounds more “convincing” in your GPS be it Snoop Dogg or your own child’s voice doing the prompts. Personally — for me — nothing makes me happier than to enjoy the quiet while I safely sneak peeks at the blue dot perfectly intersecting with the magical red destination dot.

Join me here in about two weeks time, when I’ll blog about a service which I recently engaged in — actually one of the last services you’d think I’d participate in — which turned out to be one of the best things I’ve ever done for me or my career: the sometimes dark science and occasionally nebulous world of career coaching!

Thanks for reading…

Allison Smith is a professional telephone voice, who can be heard voicing systems for telephone systems and private companies throughout the world, including platforms for Verizon, Qwest, Cingular, Sprint, Bell Canada, Hawai’ian Telcom, and Asterisk.  Her website is www.theivrvoice.com.

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