0 Replies Latest reply: Oct 5, 2012 2:38 PM by Lindsey Luria RSS

Is GPS replacing mental maps?

Lindsey Luria New User
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On frequent occasion, I find myself in a new place, yet having a vague-at-best idea of where I am.  Having been directed flawlessly by my phone's GPS to get from A to B, I've robotically made turns when told and paid little attention to where they've taken me.  So I've arrived at my destination without having employed any kind of mental processing apart from following step-by-step directions, and all but lost my spatial senses.


GPS is attractive because it allows a driver to climb into his car, without having even glanced at a map, enter his endpoint, and rest assured that he will get there without much problem.  Heaven forbid the phone battery dies on the way home and there happens to be a construction detour (I speak from experience).  And while I happen to use my GPS heavily, there are several reasons I think it might be TOO easy: one being the aforementioned disconnect from location and total dependence on the device -- perhaps I'm old-fashioned in my skepticism of technological reliability, but it is rather discomforting when your navigator refuses to tell you anything but, "Searching for GPS signal"; another being that it enables a purpose-less driving mentality, which might not be as safe as an actively engaged one.  But really, my biggest concern, as someone invested in geography and geography education, is the loss of mental mapping.


I remember reading somewhere, at some point, that the typical modern person's memory is much poorer than that of someone who lived several hundred, or thousand, years ago.  Before writing became so commonplace and note-taking became routine, lists, agendas, schedules, records, instructions, etc., were committed to mental archives, rather than paper ones.  So with the development of technology, human cognition has changed; perhaps writing has allowed us to keep track of larger quantities of information, but as it is not memorized, less of that information is at our immediate disposal.  I'm seeing a parallel, here, with new technology and mental dependence.


I do not intend to badmouth technology.  On the contrary, I am a lover of words and writing, a prolific note-taker and list-maker, a proponent of GIS and an addict to smart phones.  But I think it is important to realize how it changes our daily lives and in turn, our mental faculties.  Technophiles and technophobes, alike, what are your thoughts on GPS?  What are we gaining from it?  What are we losing?

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