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We found our way by memory once, or asking around. But now?

Travelling alone, I could consult no map while trying to avoid mishap. The traffic everywhere seemed demented. I’d committed the route to memory.

Unsurprisingly, I got lost.

French-Algerian youth in Paris pile into a car to celebrate after Algeria were crowned soccer champions of Africa last month. The driver should not be mistaken for a young Tony Wright.

French-Algerian youth in Paris pile into a car to celebrate after Algeria were crowned soccer champions of Africa last month. The driver should not be mistaken for a young Tony Wright.Credit:AP

There was a little gathering of young men standing on a street corner. An African gang, they’d be called these days by certain public figures.

Without much French and with much flailing of arms, I managed to convey that I was looking for the ring road – the Boulevard Peripherique.

The entire gang piled into my car, cheerfully pointing the way. The boys were happy to help if I would drive them a few kilometres to a football match.

And so, I eventually found my way out of Paris to Versailles, and onwards to the Loire Valley.

The streets of Kigali, the capital of Rwanda in central Africa.

The streets of Kigali, the capital of Rwanda in central Africa.Credit:Alamy

I remain immodestly dazzled by the achievement, which set me up for more pre-GPS, self-navigated car trips through big-city badlands: London, Phnom Penh, Johannesburg and Kigali, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and points between and beyond.

It is all but impossible now to understand how we got by before the arrival of satellite navigation, a magical digital map unspooling on the dashboard, a disembodied voice advising “at the round-about, take the third exit”.

Truth is, we had managed just fine by memorising directions, both gleaned from paper maps and from spoken advice (“yeah, you go past the big church on the corner and about 5 klicks down the road you take a lefty and bob’s yer uncle”) or by stopping and asking a local. We got lost every now and again but usually found the vaguely right path and sometimes got to meet interesting strangers.

All of this was reprised when we had visitors the other day. They’d travelled many thousands of kilometres through the outback without losing their way and, having got to the city, stopped in for a cup of tea.

Is this really a more promising scenario for the traveller?

Is this really a more promising scenario for the traveller?Credit:Karl Hilzinger

They’d booked a motel across town, and when they left, assured us they didn’t need directions: they’d be right because they had a sat nav. A miracle of the modern age, I nodded sagely.

A couple of hours later, we figured we’d call and check that our visitors’ accommodation was OK. A little sheepishly, they confessed they had only just arrived at the motel.

Somehow, they’d put a wrong address into the GPS and blithely followed it through numerous unfamiliar suburbs, travelling in precisely the opposite direction to the one they needed, clear through peak hour into the darkness of evening.

Could this be where we are going wrong?

Could this be where we are going wrong?

I was tempted to mock.

And then I recalled that a daughter, living in England’s Cotswolds, had once set her sat nav to guide her to dinner at a relative’s place in the south of the country. It was only as she spied a sign through the sleet welcoming her to Scotland that she realised her directions to the satellite navigator had been inadequate.

Even a correct destination tapped in for the navigator’s attention can lead you on a strange dance. Last year, driving west in Yorkshire, I found myself looping through tiny villages and streaming down the narrowest of country lanes.

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It seems I’d inadvertently told Google Maps that I didn’t want to travel on main roads or tollways or through large towns or cities. It was a happy mistake.

All of which may be apropos of nothing beyond reminding ourselves that until about a decade ago, most of us wanting to know where to go relied on feeding information into our brains and memorising it or, if lost, asking for directions from those likely to know.

But as we blast into a future as disorienting as the Arc de Triomphe roundabout, it is worth asking whether we are losing the ability to remember important guideposts.

These days, of course, with technological wonders at hand, we have the ability to simply enter a destination into a navigator and be taken to it.

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But that requires us to enter the right questions.

Right now, the answers across our world aren’t making a lot of sense.

The United States is roaring to perdition, driven by a delinquent narcissist tweeting rather than steering.

The United Kingdom appears to be headed for a cliff in the hands of a self-indulgent Hooray Henry from Eton in possession of the keys to dad’s Roller and Britain’s future in the boot.

And in Australia, the Parliament, lamentably short of questions, answers and, apparently, memory about where sliding economies end up, has stalled and closed now until September 9.

Time, you’d hope, for both government and opposition to seek a map, any map. Even one that turned out to be a happy mistake would be welcome enough.

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