When was the last time you got in a taxi, provided an address and the driver got you there without the use of technology? Rideshare apps such as Uber have made needing to know directions obsolete.
Up until 2010, London cab drivers as part of their licensing were required to recall 25,000 city streets strictly by memory.
Whether walking or driving to a new destination, we all rely heavily on technology as our guide.
On a recent cycling ride, we planned our route, a 60-mile loop, using an “app”. The GPS did such a great job of computing the most direct route that it had us crossing a river where a bridge no longer existed. Convinced the directions couldn’t be wrong, we ended up traveling 80 miles frustrated by computers that kept leading us astray.
Traveling and reliance on GPS has become the norm. We depend on it to not get lost.
Following step by step turns typically works well but it can lead to situations much worse than what I experienced. The term “death by GPS” has been used to describe situations where GPS fails the user because they blindly followed roads that are abandoned or unsuitable.
We uncritically accept the computers commands. We enter the unknown so confidently that we are prepared to “turn left here” when “here” is a lake.
The are many examples of GPS failing us and causing harm. Learning about these mishaps, our typical reaction is “what were they thinking”?
Whether the results are extreme or not, there is no question that we are losing our sense of direction. We may no longer be getting lost, yet we are losing our attention to the environment and more importantly our ability to think critically.
As algorithms expand into our lives we must question and challenge rather than follow outputs instinctively otherwise we lose the opportunity to learn.
It was only when we looked around and discovered a sign to a bridge that had been removed years ago that we stopped thinking the technology must be right.
When we are an autopilot, our brain activity quiets and does not produce the chemicals that typically make us creative and happy. When we do something new such as trying to find our way without GPS, many regions of the brain are activated.
Most of us do not think about the downsides of getting directions from computers and smartphones. Unfortunately, over time, the part of the brain called Hippocampus atrophies, which increases potential for Alzheimer’s, depression and reduces our ability to deal with stress.
Consider incorporating the following ideas into your daily life to counteract some of the downsides of GPS:
· When driving to a new location, review the map and try and get there without navigation. If you get lost, even better.
· Use navigation to get to a location, pay attention to the environment and try to find your way back without navigation. You may find you missed some interesting landscapes, and you will feel a sense of achievement when you return to your starting point.
It seems obvious that when you are not forced to remember or process information you are not thinking or deciding for yourself. We may want to believe that using navigation is the only means by which this takes place nevertheless it is clear that computers are making decisions for us is in more and more areas of our lives.
If you don’t get lost occasionally you may be losing part of yourself!
“To the beginner, everything is hard but the brain is on fire”