What3Words: a distraction during lockdown

As if I didn’t already spend enough time in front of a computer screen, both at work and at home, this lockdown has made things worse. Typically, around half of my working day is researching and writing reports and papers, but at least the other half was talking to people in person at meetings and conferences. However, over the last nine weeks all meetings have been by Zoom videoconferencing, so now I spend the whole day staring at a computer screen. It’s exhausting.

If the meeting is dull, I need a little distraction. Ideally, something that I can use on my screen at the same time as videoconferencing: subtle enough to avoid being too noticeable in the middle of a business meeting; something silent; and something that doesn’t need concentration, just the occasional glance. So, no role-playing video games. I recently discovered a small gem.

What3Words is the name of a free app that you can install on your PC and phone. It has an entirely serious purpose and is, in fact, incredibly useful as a highly accurate navigation aid. Used by the police and emergency services, the app can be used to direct someone to a precise location anywhere in the world.

The application uses a grid to cover the whole world from Chelmsford to China, from Dagenham to Dar-es-Salaam. Every square in the grid measures 10 feet by 10 feet and has a unique reference of just three (English) words. You wouldn’t think it possible, but it does work, and works incredibly well. Three words are so much easier to communicate and remember. For example, “releasing newlywed hotspots” could take you to the exact spot, within just a couple of feet, where we pitched our shelter at the last Maldon car show. And I’m sure you would agree that “releasing newlywed hotspots” is certainly more memorable as a direction than 51.725366 0.689619, the longitude and latitude coordinates for the same spot.

So, an incredibly useful app; imagine how easy it might be to use your sat nav to get to the right general area or road, then What3Words for the exact spot such as an obscure driveway entrance on a country road.

But why have I found it an entertaining distraction? Well, the combination of words can lead to some amusing results.

For instance, I imagined that my car might have developed some problems after being laid up for months through the winter and this lockdown period, but I need not have worried; the precise spot in my garage where it is parked is reassuringly “wrong fault certified”.

Another Suffolk SS100-owning friend in Oxfordshire has a much larger workshop which has some interesting sections; if he is not put off by the “irritable conga alarm” he can sustain himself with a “curry buggy lunch” and face a “newer depravity challenge”. That sounds a much more interesting party than I usually get invited to!

My mother’s garden is clearly a green area that’s ecologically beneficial and having much more impact on the environment than all the politicians in the USA; her fig tree is “amending global spaces” whereas the heart of the US Capitol building in Washington just “stays same really”.

Presumably the words were all selected randomly, but some references do make me wonder; “legend sorry brain” is part of the Oval Office and seems very relevant for Donald Trump. And could we ask for anything more appropriate to the famous door at the entrance to 10 Downing Street than “input caring brain”?

And, finally, yes “distraction during lockdown” does refer to a place, at the top of a lonely mountain in the Arizona desert somewhere near the Grand Canyon. How apt.

Have a look; you don’t know what you’re missing!

Richard Gibby