Last week, Art Decker presented some excellent research into the neurological benefits of writing. It made me wonder if there’s not something similar going on with maps and GPS devices. My parents visited earlier this summer, and they stayed in a hotel that’s about a 10-minute drive from where I live. I offered to give them directions, but my dad, ever the gadget geek, told me he would just use his new GPS.
To get here, you have to follow 9th Street under the BQE, where it makes a little jog to the right and then the left. It sounds simple, but there’s a lot going on at that intersection: the entrance to the Battery Tunnel, the ramp to the Eastbound BQE, truck traffic, other roads joining up and veering off at awkward angles… If you haven’t looked at a map and/or been prepped for the madness, it doesn’t do much good to hear your GPS tell you to take a slight left in 30 feet. My dad ended up on the on-ramp to the tunnel, and had to stop and ask a cop how to proceed from there, because of course his GPS was already calculating the route he would need to take if he continued through it. I’m not saying my directions would have eliminated the possibility for error, but I definitely think they would have been easier to follow!
There doesn’t seem to be much scientific data on the topic, though a Canadian researcher has suggested that “overreliance on gps… will result in our using the spatial capabilities of the hippocampus less, and that it will in turn get smaller.” She’s not the only one who’s worried — anecdotal evidence suggests that plenty of people are afraid of losing their navigational abilities.
No issue like this has to be either/or, but I’m curious: what do you think? Is GPS making us stupid?