Opinion: German drivers refuse directions for female voice GPS

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“Press one for English.” Five menus later: “Press four to speak with a customer service representative.” By this point, I’m pretty angry with my new automated friend.

None of the menus had anything to do with my question, so yes, I want to speak with a real human being, thank you.

We can all identify with the annoyance that comes from listening to automated voices. They are on smart phones reading texts, on recordings for various 1-800 numbers and now they are in cars giving us directions.

Many people take these voices serious enough to have conversations with them, name them and even get angry with them. While this is entertaining, it has recently been taken to a much more significant level.

In his book titled “The Man Who Lied to His Laptop” published in 2010, Clifford Nass, a communications professor at Stanford University, writes that BMW recalled GPS systems after finding out that German drivers would not take directions from a female voice.

Societal aversion towards women has been demonstrated institutionally, socially and now digitally.

Nass explains what led to the recall in an interview with NPR during the Science Friday segment on Sept. 3 of this year.

“Even after the help desk, when people were calling in angry, tried to explain that in fact it wasn’t a real female in the car and in fact that all the people who had designed the GPS and the directions were male, nonetheless people were unfazed and insisted on changing the voice,” Nass said.

Nass is an experimentalist, studying people’s relationships with various technologies. He says in the podcast that we really do establish meaningful, complicated relationships with these technologies that talk.

For German drivers, the fact that their GPS had a female voice was a deal breaker.

Having a woman give directions, or essentially be “in the driver’s seat,” challenged traditional ideas about women’s roles in society.

BMW was also guilty of sexism when customer service representatives at BMW tried to calm them down by explaining that men were actually behind the making of both the car as well as the directions.

As the third wave of feminism attempts to take its messages global, cultural warnings like this matter delay the process. It is an example of how deeply embedded the ideologies that oppress women continue to be.

During the NPR podcast, host Ira Flatow answers some calls from listeners.

Andrew in Kansas City, Kansas said he works in technical support for a major GPS company and hears numerous stories about people’s relationships with their GPS.

“I find that a lot of people find women voices on there especially snotty,” he said. “They feel like they’re being talked to a lot, especially when they miss a turn.”

Andrew also shared his personal opinion on the matter.

“I actually prefer British males on mine,” he said. “I just feel like he’s a little bit more confident about where he’s going.”

It is common stereotype that guys hate asking for directions. However, it could very well be that they just hate asking women for directions.

Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Morgan Aguilar at Morgan.aguilar@colorado.edu.

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  1. Oddly enough in this article I find the shoddy sentence structure and poor organization more offensive than the extreme feminist undertones.

    I live in Germany and have a navigator. Yes, The female voice is annoying. It has nothing to do with sexism.

    Save your fanatic ranting for your seminars.

  2. I’m sorry, Joe, if you’re so offended by the notion that misogyny is somehow wrong. God forbid that people just deal with having a woman’s voice in the car without throwing a hissyfit!

  3. @Joe: Said the man whose comment is three sentences and three paragraphs and is right below that of someone insisting that no one wants women giving directions. Well played. I, too, love a good satire.

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