Remember those days where we navigated only by maps? When it came time for a road trip, we'd contact our automobile association and get a suggested route. But there were so many other sources to consult as well. Road map books. Advice from the hotel we'd phone. Maybe, if we knew somebody at the destination, they would give us the best route as well.
Technology has changed all that. Most places are now accessible through GPS, requiring us to do nothing more but plug in our phone or turn on a dedicated device to find our way. If we want to find our way by computer, we can put our route into a number of programs, such as Google Maps. Some believe this is a boon, a way to save time. But a user on a recent Gizmodo article had issues.
"I do not have the willpower to learn where anything is anymore. I open maps to go anywhere that isn’t already part of my routine," wrote a user that identified themselves as verb-a-noun.
"I could just as easily figure out where something is if I thought about it for five seconds or ask someone and maybe learn a thing or two about them/the place I’m going to/the world around me. There used to be conversations about what route to take and why to take it, now it’s all about Google Maps."
It's a problem that ancient navigators would have been glad to find. Think about the Viking explorers of North America, who set out from northern Europe with only a vague idea of going west to see what they would find. Or the early colonists that hacked their way through North America, battling forests and local wildlife to find their way. It was only when satellite technology became available in the 1950s and 1960s that we could truly see where we are.
Today, most of us use a network of satellites called GPS (Global Positioning System), which synchronizes with each other and the user on the ground using a time signal. When you ask a GPS receiver where to go and how long it will take, it measures the time signals between precise clocks loaded on the satellite to give the answer. And thus starts the problem verb-a-noun talks about -- it's perhaps a little too easy.
Guess what -- there's actually still a way to challenge yourself despite the problems of knowing exactly where GPS will take you. It's called geocaching. People hide little treasures wherever they think might be fun -- a nearby wood or perhaps in a park. Then, they precisely mark the location and you can use GPS to find it. To be clear, GPS receivers are usually accurate to only a few feet. So there's still the thrill of the hunt.
Also, we always have the option of not using the GPS to get somewhere. I've done this myself many times in cities -- just carry a map and some directions in my head, and walk around the neighborhood to see what sorts of sights are on offer. Just because the technology is there, it doesn't mean you need to use it. But I will say that GPS comes in handy on a cross-country drive when you just want to get where you're going.
Still, perhaps we over-rely on the technology for navigating in our own cities or even in foreign ones. How do you suggest we get around the problem?
Top image: Our perception of mapping has changed in the past few hundred years. Credit: Wikimedia Commons