“Do our brains pay a price for GPS?”
“How a useful technology interferes with our ‘mental mapping’ — and what to do about it”
When I moved to Boston in 2011, I took public transportation to work. A couple years later, a friend lent me his car while he was out of town, and for the first time in my life I became a guy who drove to the office. Parking in the employee lot came naturally enough; so did listening to “Morning Edition” and balancing my coffee in the cup-holder. Actually navigating the streets of Cambridge and Boston, however — that part was less intuitive.
So I did what any rational, 21st-century person would do in my situation: punched my work address into my smartphone and listened as a GPS-powered, step-by-step guide told me exactly what to do. Turn left in 300 feet, take the second exit out of the rotary, and so on. This I could handle. Before I knew it, my destination was on my right.
After a few days, I grew confident, and one morning decided to find my own way. But as I tried frantically to remember the GPS’s instructions, I realized that despite multiple trips to and from work, I had learned exactly nothing about the city’s geography. As I sat at a red light, I didn’t have the foggiest notion of where I was relative to where I’d come from — or, more importantly, where I was trying to go.