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Brain Shutdown Syndrome

Brain Shutdown Syndrome

What the GPS taught me

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GPS or Global Positioning System is the new "must-have" for drivers navigating roads they don't know. With this system, instead of calling for directions or using a map or even getting directions from Mapquest, the user can get their travel directions spoken to them by a computerized voice that comes from a small box that is attached to the dashboard of the car. GPS gives the driver exact directions. It's as if there is another person sitting in the car reading from a map for the driver. The only catch is that the GPS is a machine and not a person.

Hence, a recent news article that is no doubt meant to be a serious piece of news but has a humorous touch. According to the story, it seems that motorists turn their brains off when they turn their GPS systems on. Some drivers obey the computerized voice, totally disregarding their own mind and brain. These motorists do totally irrational things on the basis of the computerized voice and have crashed into rivers, construction sites and roadside rest areas in Germany and Britain.

"It's hard to understand how these things can happen," said a spokesman for a German motorist club. "It's not as if people are driving in a tank with only a small slit to see out. You'd think that they have their own eyes and brains engaged to make decisions and not rely on the SatNav (European model of the GPS). I used to think that the SatNav was idiot proof, but perhaps not."

According to the records kept by a motorist club, one motorist ignored common sense and, following his GPS command, drove straight into a "closed for construction" sign. Luckily, though he hit a pile of sand at high speed, he was not hurt.

Another motorist, listened to the GPS command tell her to turn left in one mile and after putting on the mile counter, she turned left exactly after one mile--and crashed head on into a temporary concrete traffic barrier.

A few weeks later, a motorist following the GPS command which said "Turn right now!" jerked the wheel over and crashed into a thankfully empty roadside restroom hut which was situated 90 feet before the crossing he was meant to take. By blindly following the computerized GPS, the man caused $2,600 in damage.

Though this news item has a humorous touch we can learn a serious lesson from it. There are times that we do things without making use of our G‑d given brain and act as if we are listening to a computerized voice with our eyes closed. For some people it's following the fashion industry which generates a need to buy more and more, for others it's keeping up with the Joneses, or blindly follow friends that lead them to all the wrong places. These people are following some sort of external GPS system instead of using their brain.

The next time we take action we should ask ourselves, "Does this decision make sense? Or am I carelessly plowing into a roadside sign by following a system that has commandeered my brain and G‑d given powers of choice?"

Rabbi Shea Hecht is chairman of NCFJE (National Committee for the Furtherance of Jewish Education), the trailblazing social services and outreach organization directed by his late father, the famed Rabbi J. J. Hecht. Rabbi Shea Hecht is also a communal leader and activist in the Crown Heights Jewish community.
Artwork by Sarah Kranz.
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Shea Hecht Brooklyn, NY January 25, 2007

Thank you very much for reading the article and taking the time to send your thoughtful and thought provoking comments. It is really appreciated. Reply

Mark Cameron Walsenburg, Colorado January 15, 2007

In Albuquerque, some forty-nine years ago, on my way to kindergarten class, I was knocked into our car's back seat and unconscious by a 60mph police cruiser, with no lights or siren, as it had been running a red light. The cops wanted my mom cited (presumably for running a green light?), but my dad worked for the AEC at Sandia Base. He had some political muscle in the region as a result, and he actually invited these Keystoners to pursue the charges against my mom ... if they wanted to walk a beat ... if they still had jobs after he got done with them ...
They then dropped that nonsense.
In conclusion, this happened long before cell phones.
Yet one more distraction for drivers? So? What's new, really? Reply

Peter Germany January 13, 2007

A man-made gadget can only be as smart as the men who have created it. G-d has enabled us by giving us incredible talents and opportunities - GPS, global communication, education, English as a global language, scientific insight. G-d's impact on His creation is more visible than ever before in human history. He is the source of all we have received. So why don't we do the obvious and turn to Him for directions? Reply

arash karaj, iran January 10, 2007

thank you very much. I use your articles as my guideline. i reread them, remember them to use them and remain hoping that some people like you exist!! have a good time. Reply

Moshe Haven Potomac, MD January 9, 2007

It forms an interesting follow on to the mitzvoth to act and only later to understand. While the GPS is not Hashem it is interesting to find this in a Chabad publication. There are a great many commandments that don't readily appear to make much sense but we try to follow them anyhow, and eventually, sometimes come to understand. There are a great many times when we are not supposed to use our own mind as the final arbiter, even on such seemingly innocuous things as in what order to dress. Further exploration would be welcome beyond the obviously humorous examples here. Reply

Anonymous Worcester, MA January 9, 2007

I wholeheartedly agree with Rabbi Hecht. We DO listen, at times, to an external GPS. We DO get ourselves into awkward and downright shameful positions. Let's face it, the world at large - the world that surrounds us and tries to engulf and swallow us up until we're no more - is one great, big GPS. The world around us tries hard, really hard, to tell us to work on Shabbos, shop the "big sale" on Shabbos, dress like Britney Spears, and don't forget all those tantalizing non-kosher restaurants whose aromas oftentimes waft out into the street as we innocently walk by... Reply

Jonathan New York, USA January 9, 2007

This is great advice. It is a shame that big institutions and governments don't follow this. If they did, this would be a more secure world Reply

yonatan smuel tzaddik manchester, england January 9, 2007

Thank you for your very amusing article. I was once with my parents in the car and my father had bought a sat nav system (the one where the voice gets angrier every time you disobey it). Our journey was to take us from Manchester to Bournemouth. Everything was going fine when 1 mile from the sea front in Bournemouth the machine told us (demanded) that we go straight on, this happened repeatedly every time the voice getting more frustrated at the fact that we were disobeying it until we finally reached the promenade where it exasperatedly gave up. Reply

Anonymous January 8, 2007

thank U Reply

European London, England January 7, 2007

Thank you Rabbi Hecht for your (slightly humorous) lesson in daily life. Reply