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OpinionColumnistsLane Filler

On the road, the Wazers tell me where to go

Car driving along a road.

Car driving along a road. Photo Credit: iStock

For years I was a committed Garminite. I worshipped at the altar of the Nuvi navigation device, taking every turn it suggested and chatting to it about my day. I needed Garmin badly, for without it I was lost. Daily.Yet now I have forsaken Garmin for Waze, turning to the altar of crowdsourced traffic apps to guide me. And my commute. And what amazes me most is that a tool like Garmin seems to have revolutionized the world, then begun to fade into irrelevance in just a decade.

I bought my Garmin in 2010, a week before I moved to Long Island. Even when living in highly familiar places, I miss a lot of turns and often find myself at the wrong destination, or even the wrong side of town, because I'm really engrossed in an audiobook biography about an important philosopher like Thomas Jefferson or Kanye West.

I'm focused enough on safety . . . usually . . . just not so much on destination. I quickly became utterly dependent on my Garmin. I used it constantly, even to get to work and go home, not because I didn't know the way (I thought), but because with it keeping an eye out for exits and entrances, I was free to give my family animated lectures on the Teapot Dome Scandal or the Spice Girls, which drove them as crazy as using a navigation device to go 375 yards to the Dunkin' Donuts.

But a few weeks ago, my Garmin began to go on the fritzy-blink, telling me it was cut off from the power source and then cutting out. The problem turned out to be the plug connection thingie, so I tried to go to Costco to try to price a new gadget.

It turned out that without the Garmin's guidance I wasn't sure where the Holbrook Costco was, having only been there 1,172 times. I knew it was off a frontage road by a highway in Holbrook, but so are a lot of things. When I eventually circled in and found the place, I was shocked to learn that the Garmin models I favor are still like $200. I figured they would have plunged in cost, like portable DVD players.

Of all the signs of middle-age, none is more obvious and depressing than the constant, constantly thwarted sense that things that should cost $39 instead retail for six times that.

I didn't pay it. I remembered what younger co-workers had said about apps like Waze, and downloaded it for free on my iPhone, and it is so, so good. It has more than 50 million users worldwide and it tracks them all as they travel. If the 5,000 Wazers in front of you on Jericho Turnpike come to a standstill, it tells you to go another way. It tells you when cars are stopped on the roadside, when cops lie in wait up ahead, and when you are approaching a red-light camera. And it can do all this because we users are reporting in, working together.

The Garmin Nuvi, the first model that really took off, came out in 2005. Now, 10 years later, that mode of technology to navigate is likely to die out over time.

We see these temporarily groundbreaking wonderventions all the time now. The first Blockbuster video store opened in 1985. As it transitioned from videos to DVDs, the company grew to 9,000 stores and 60,000 employees by 2005 -- and was bankrupt by 2010. And there are hardly any videos anymore, or even DVDs or compact discs, which once seemed so modern.

So Waze is the next thing, but not the last thing, because there never is a last thing. Books were the state of the art for 1,000 years, record albums for 100. Now, though, no technology seems to be modern for more than a decade. The constant changes don't make me feel old, because I'm always glad to adapt. The fact that none of the new stuff can be purchased for $39, though? That makes me feel ancient.

Lane Filler is a member of Newsday's editorial board.