My sister once lamented the passive-aggressive attitude of her car's GPS, saying "If you don't go the way it wants you to, it sinks into silence, then says 'recalculating' in a huffy tone." I have travelled in her car and can attest to this. The feelings of guilt and discomfort were almost unbearable, as we sat with the sense of having caused major inconvenience and more work for the ethereal being trapped in our company. It's never pleasant to be stuck with someone you don't like, or worse, who doesn't like you, especially when you're relying on them, and they hate their job and resent you for making them do it.
I've often found myself arguing with my own GPS, especially when I know a better route than the one it suggests. I can say "suggests" because my GPS is much nicer than my sister's. It never says, "recalculating", but instead, when I rebel against its proposals, it simply goes quiet – not passive-aggressively, but thoughtfully, as if it's completely accepting of human vagaries and just wants to work with me to find a solution that will help us both, in the sense that I will arrive at my desired destination, and it will have done its job of getting me there. All my GPS wants is a shared harmonious experience, and a peaceful resolution. So when it goes quiet, I know it's not in a biting-your-lip-before-you-say-something-you'd-really-regret sort of quiet, but in a focused, lets-find-another-way-to-get-what-you-need-without-any-tears quiet. It is recalculating, but is kind enough to know it won't help me to hear how hard I'm making it work while it leafs through virtual atlases to find a way to help me get to the nearest Wal-Mart where I can be annoyed by someone else.
I can't help but imagine what the voices would look like if they had bodies attached to them. My sister's passive-aggressive, invisible companion probably has short, spiky, dark hair, a brooding countenance, and a permanent frown-line on her angular, angry face. She never smiles (except perhaps secretly, when she sends someone the wrong way), and lives in a state of constant aggrievement, convinced that no one has any idea how difficult her job is, and also that no one else can do it as well as she can, not that anyone would ever offer to take over for a few hours, or read their own damn map once in while, and save her the trouble of getting them hopelessly lost (which she does sometimes, just to teach them a lesson).
By contrast, my GPS has naturally wavy hair, cut in a low-maintenance style so she doesn't have to waste time on it and can use that time to attend to the more important matters of cartography. She wears sensible shoes and neutral colors, and always dresses in a modest blouse and a skirt that covers her knees. She does good works, is a responsible member of the community, never forgets to bring something for the local food drive, and is assiduous about donating her unwanted winter coats to the homeless shelter. My GPS is kind, capable, and never judges anyone. Sometimes she has a cozy chuckle with like-minded GPS's about their human companions, but never in a mean-spirited way. She wants the best for everyone, and never takes offence at anything, not even when she's told, "Go fuck yourself, lady, I can't go down there, it's a one-way street, you ignorant piece of shit".
But lately, I've been wondering if my GPS has been influenced by my sister's. Perhaps they ran into each other at a support group, and the vociferous rage of one uncovered a repressed violence in the other. Because my GPS has begun to behave oddly. Not in an obvious way – she's far too polite for that. But I've noticed that she tends not to mention which way I need to turn until I'm actually at the junction. She used to tell me at least a thousand yards, or even a quarter of a mile, ahead of time, more than enough for me to comfortably get in the correct lane and prepare to stop when necessary. Now she seems to favor living on the edge. Yesterday she told me I'd reached my destination just after I drove past it. And I've noticed that frantically yelling, "Which way, you stupid bitch?" isn't having any effect on her. The silence has begun to hint at a sense of smug satisfaction, rather than an industrious and quietly competent recalculation.
Maybe, whether you're a GPS or a human person, it's better to know the limits of your tolerance and be up front about who you are from the start. Otherwise it can be painfully surprising to other people when you suddenly snap, even in a restrained way. At least with my sister's GPS, we knew to be petrified of it from the beginning, but I think I've been taking mine for granted, and not appreciating that maybe there's more to her than just being nice and reliable. I'm reminded of a co-worker with whom I spent many years speaking on the phone before we ever met in person. I was always impressed by her calm demeanor, and her ability to handle any crisis with ease and kindness, much like my GPS before it fell into bad company. In fact, I once told my co-worker that she reminded me of the voice of my GPS, and whenever I heard it, I thought of her quiet competence. I meant it as a compliment, but by way of a response, she said that she always thought of me whenever she saw her friend's dog, but only because we have the same name. Or maybe she – and by extension my GPS – was telling me I'm a bitch too. Just in case, I've stopped screaming abuse at my invisible companion, and I try to appreciate that maybe she doesn't always want to be seen as merely sensible and reliable. I think it's made life better for us both.