Aside from occasional pokes at others’ devices, I’ve never used a GPS. But I can certainly attest to the gradual softening of the brain that comes with the violent expansion of high-quality mapping tools of the past few years.
When I moved to Budapest in late 2000 from a leafy riverside town in Southern Hungary, I spent weeks memorizing the grid of my surroundings. This was years before Google Maps and this area—where I haven’t lived or worked for six years now—is still the only part of the city I know down to the street level. It took until my regular uptake of city running to re-engage my spatial skills after years of lazily indulging in the geo-glut of Google Earth.
Katayama reports on a similar experience in her home of San Francisco:
At first, the GPS (I have an old Garmin) was a novelty-a tool for experimentation. It was fun to see how long the thing thought it would take to get from point A to point B. I was just the receiving end of a network of commands relayed through the voice of a nice British lady. But then it became a habit, and weird things started happening to me.
I started to forget how to get places without it. The map in my brain became a distorted blur. And then my driving became more reckless. I invented this game where I tried to beat the estimated arrival time that the GPS gave me. Often, that entailed running yellow lights and exceeding the speed limit.
Make no mistake: satellite mapping combined with GPS is an amazing invention, a genuine HOLY SHIT which makes it hard to imagine the state of the world before.
Still, like the automatic transmission and the running shoe with kevlar arch support, it comes with a price. And while the sheer convenience of being able to navigate any random spot on Earth with fine precision is wonderful, it may not be unwise to not entirely forget how to do this with the aid of nothing but our senses and our brains. Satellites, for instance, may fall out of the sky.
And if you read Jalopnik, you’ll certainly appreciate the proprioceptive pleasures of heel-and-toeing a car with a fine manual gearbox.
Photo Credit: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images