Blog Editor’s Note: We often talk about “GPS dependency” in terms of technologies and systems that use GPS/GNSS signals. Rarely do we think of people as being one of those systems. But people, unlike most technological systems, can learn and unlearn. Even those who lived much of their life without GNSS will need some time to recover their skills when it goes away.
“What’s the big deal? People have become dependent on lots of technology, like calculators and cars.” Yes, but it’s not likely Russia, China, the Sun or an accident will take all our calculators or cars away in an instant.
Many of us have had the experience of arriving in an unfamiliar city and needing to get to a specific destination — whether it’s checking in at a hotel, meeting a friend at a local brewery or navigating to a meeting on time.
With a few clicks of the smartphone, the destination is entered into a navigational app, with customized route preferences to avoid traffic, tolls and, in cities such as San Francisco, even inclines. Anxiety abated, one drives to one’s destination via voice prompts and the occasional illicit glance at the constantly updating map.
But, after having arrived safely, there is the vague awareness that we don’t know how we got there. We cannot remember the landmarks along the way and, without our handheld device, certainly couldn’t get back to our origin point. So are the navigational capacities of our smartphones making us worse navigators?
Research points to yes. But, given the ubiquity of these devices, as well as their ability to enable particular groups, perhaps we should learn to embrace them as a technological prosthetic.
Worse at finding our way
All cultures practice wayfinding — sensing one’s environment for barriers to travel, then navigating spatially to a remote destination.