Apple released the iPhone 5 on Sept. 21, and unleashed mayhem on America’s roadways in the process.

Warning: If the car in front of you suddenly stops in the middle of a busy thoroughfare, do not blame the driver. They are simply doing what Siri has told them to do. They have, according to Siri, arrived at their destination.

I know this from firsthand experience.

Screen shot of new Apple maps
Which one is better, new Apple maps or old Google maps? The new one talks to you. That’s not necessarily a plus.

You see, I recently uploaded the new operating system to my now antiquated iPhone 4S. Last Friday I was meeting a colleague for breakfast at an establishment that was previously unfamiliar to me. As an iPhone neophyte, I decided to give Siri a try. After I input the CORRECT address, Siri guided me to the Atlanta waterworks, where there was no sign of eggs, bacon, biscuits or grits. In fact, Siri emphatically told me I had arrived right in the middle of the road.

What happened? Well, a few days later I learned that corporate competition has caused Apple to abandon Google maps in favor of its own maps application. This is not a helpful development for the directionally challenged.

You see, Google maps has been around a while, and the database upon which its maps program is based has had more time to be updated and carefully tended to avoid causing you to, as Michael Scott once famously said in an episode of “The Office,” “Drive your car into a lake.”

It’s a simple proof of the time-tested principle of databases: “Garbage in, garbage out.” Over time, Apple maps will improve because the data will be updated and corrected, but in the meantime, beware.

All of this points to a more disturbing trend in the New South: Smart phones make dumb people.

Way back when I had both a Palm Pilot and a separate cell phone (yes, the Dark Ages, I know), I used to refer to my Palm as my “hand-held brain supplement.” At some point in the development of these devices, they went from being a brain “supplement” to a brain “replacement.”

We think these devices will enhance our functionality. They help us look up the answers to important questions we need immediate answers to, like what actor played what role with Kevin Bacon in a movie in 1986. But, if we are walking down the street while looking up the answer to this brain teaser, we are likely to step in front of a bus or fall down an open manhole.

Car in the Pacific Ocean
“Siri, can you give me directions to the Pacific Ocean?”

I am one month into a new job on the campus of Georgia Tech, and I have already nearly killed 14 pedestrians. Not because I’m not paying attention, mind you. It’s smart phones. Students, with their heads buried in their devices, will literally walk into your car, like a rodent on a neighborhood street that dives under your car’s tires.

In the South, we were once caricatured for our imprecise directions: “Go down to the Wal-Marts and turn left, then go ‘til you see the stand of pines. Veer right through the holler and when you come out the other side, you’ll make a left-hand turn past the third hill. When you reach the Ford on blocks in the front yard, it’s just four and a half mailboxes down.”

Still, we knew how to get around. And if we didn’t, we asked people.  In my last job, I did a fair amount of traveling to all the places where there are a lot of Baptists, primarily the South. At first, I would print out turn-by-turn directions from Mapquest. By the end, I would let my smartphone tell me where to go.

I developed this little game where I wouldn’t use the smart phone directions unless I got lost. Guess what? It never happened. By navigating through such visual clues as SIGNS, and a well-honed sense of likely church locations, I managed to find my way every time.

So don’t let the Apple maps debacle get you down. Look up. Look around you. See the sights. Get lost. Talk to people. Ask for directions. And, please, by all means, do not trust Siri.

Has your smart phone made you stupid? What’s your worst experience with bad directions from a smart phone? Leave a comment below and share your story. We won’t laugh… much.

Are we there yet?

Summer road trips have been a part of the Southern landscape since rednecks first discovered their Riviera on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. For nearly as long, parents have been looking for ways to entertain their children in the car on the way to the beach.

We’re just past Independence Day, and my family has already made one long and several short car trips. All the time behind the wheel has me contemplating how kids pass the time in the car in the New South.

When I was growing up, my family made annual treks from Fort Worth, Texas, to Columbus, Ga., to see my grandparents.  Not confined to car seats like today’s kids, my two brothers and I freely roamed the back seats of our family’s station wagons and sedans.

We amused ourselves with books, coloring books and handheld, battery-operated electronic games, which were the new technological rage in the late 1970s. We counted “Lovebugs” and cried out in olfactory offense when we passed a nearby paper mill. We enjoyed egg McMuffins and Whoppers, and occasionally stopped at Stuckey’s when traversing Mississippi.

electronic football
Mattel's Football 2 was our favorite. You could even "pass" indicated by one red blip blinking and moving downfield to another red blip. Highly advanced for its day.

Kids in the New South, spend car trips watching movies, listening to MP3 players and playing handheld game systems like Nintendo DS and Playstation PSP. These game systems allow kids to play interactively in high resolution graphics. Back in my day, we tried to move a red blip past other red blips in a game that sounded like Morse Code and resembled a malfunctioning Internet router more than it did football.

Our 2-year-old son, Carlton, demonstrated a new breakthrough during a recent trip to Tampa. As all 2-year-olds confined to car seats for long periods do, Carlton began to fuss and whine and lose interest in the movie my older two boys watched on our minivan’s built-in DVD player.

My wife clicked away on Facebook on her ever-present iPhone attracting Carlton’s attention.

“I want it!” he whined, arms outstretched.

Tough love isn’t something we practice during long car trips.

Carla handed over her phone, and in just a few seconds we heard Barney singing “The Wheels on the Bus.” Carla and I exchanged puzzled looks. She took the phone away, reset it and handed it back so she could see what he was doing.

Carlton on Iphone
Carlton outsmarts the smart phone.

Unable to read but not immune to good branding, the 2-and-a-half-year-old Carlton scrolled through the apps until he found Netflix. After he hit the Netflix button, he immediately found “Barney & Friends” among the “recently watched” options. He clicked it, resuming Barney in mid-chorus.

I get that kids pick up technology quickly. I get that the iPhone is easy to use. What is a little hard to fathom is how quickly we went from counting state license plates and Volkswagen Beetles to playing DVDs and streaming children’s TV shows on our smartphones.

With one more car trip to go, my faithful readers as my witness, if I hear the words “I’m bored” I’m going to lose it.

Here’s hoping Carlton’s fascination with Barney and friends holds up for a few more hours, and Carla’s data plan doesn’t give out.