Google is God. That’s how I felt when I first moved to Japan. Dropped my keys somewhere in a grocery store; the translation app helped me explain my panic to the staff. Those personnel—who moments before had been staring at my red-faced pantomiming, completely bewildered—suddenly and amazingly were now down on their hands and knees looking under stalls. They found my keys, by the way, and I said thank you exactly the way Google told me to. Trying to make dinner and unsure of what exactly that vegetable was, I typed “hairy potato” into Google and learned everything there was to know about the taro root. My smartphone keeps Google perpetually nearby, exactly where I need “him.”
Then, of course, you have Google Maps, a feature so necessary for survival that even Apple tried—and failed—to rip it off. Google, with their Street View teams cruising around in cars with 360-degree capable cameras mounted to the roofs and trekkers with backpack-mounted cameras, can take you almost anywhere in the world. Want to explore the White House, Versailles or the Louvre? No need to throw clothes over those holey underwear of yours; just take a Google-sponsored tour. Want to see the Great Barrier Reef but are deathly afraid of water and/or sharks? Check it out on Google Earth and stay 100 percent dry and nibble-free. Want to climb Mt. Fuji but have no idea how you’re going to haul yourself up an enormous mountain? Google already did it, and you can see the entire climb and steal enough pictures to thoroughly convince your friends you actually went.
Google is God. So why, oh why, can it not figure out the streets of Tokyo?
On my way to a Ginza office building this weekend, I walked out of the closest recommended metro exit. I immediately pulled up Google to see how far away and in what direction the office was. Sixteen minutes by car? What had I done wrong? I switched the app to walking directions; one minute away. The building was literally across the street from where I stood. I know what you’re thinking: I tried to make excuses for Him, too. But there were no one-way streets, no traffic or construction to contend with. Google just momentarily went insane.
There was the time Google tried to convince me the Robot Restaurant was in the middle of a large store. And the much more aggravating time I told Google to take me to one of my saved pins—my home—and instead it took me several kilometers in the opposite direction. It then stubbornly repeated that I had “arrived” while I sat in the parking lot of a Family Mart trying to reprogram it. I understand these are all pretty harmless problems, and probably common in other cities and countries around the world, but Tokyo poses its own unique set of challenges for Google.
There’s nothing more frustrating than driving into a tunnel with multiple branches, exits and general feats of deranged engineering than to have your guide decide that instead of driving in a tunnel, you’re floating around in Tokyo Bay or perhaps sitting in the cosmetics department of a nearby department store. How about when you’re traveling on the freeway? Even though you’ve been using Google the entire time and not deviated from its instructions, thereby leading you to believe that it should have a pretty firm handle on your location, it suddenly decides you’ve transported yourself, Portal-style, through the concrete and steel to Roppongi dori below. It then insists you make a turn at the next intersection, which, if you attempt it, would send you hurtling into someone’s fourth floor apartment.
As with most believers, I simply pray to my benevolent and omnipotent Google—thanking it for the gifts it has already bestowed— asking … no, demanding more and better gifts.
And until then, I will continue to remind myself: this God works in mysterious ways.