Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Geographic Dislocation: iPhones and Garmins

I recently purchased an iPhone and have rediscovered the wonders of GPS. Just like my Garmin, which my brother gave me for Christmas, my iPhone can tell me, with a press of the screen, how to get to wherever I'm going no matter where I am, even if I have no idea where that may be. The wonders of technology are astounding.

But this marvelous device is another example of the creeping in of No-Place. By relying on it to guide me, I don't look at the landmarks or the street signs, rather I simply turn right or left when the voice directs me to do so. On a recent business trip, I found myself in White Junction somewhere in New England. Landing in an unknown airport and then following the instructions on the GPS, I didn't really have a sense of where I was (Vermont? Massachusetts? Connecticut?). I didn't know which way was North, South, East or West. And if for some reason the GPS system came up missing, I would have had no idea how to tell a rescuer where I was, let alone where I was going (everything had been keyed into the system ahead of time).

"Welcome to the grid . . . to the Matrix," my husband laughs at me. I've always had a keen sense of direction and, even as a little girl, I could read a map and a compass. No matter where I was (the woods, a strange town, or an airport), I knew how to find my way back because I was actively engaged in getting there in the first place. I wonder if these new directional devices will have the same effect on my sense of geography and my place in it as calculators have had on my ability to run numbers in my head. It will arguably be much easier to get around, but what are we losing in the process?

4 comments:

Jill said...

Plus, you know, with GPS, Big Brother always knows where you are. ;)

Marilyn Finnemore said...

Big Brother knows where you are even when you have NO IDEA:-)

Jeffrey Levy said...

I know exactly what you mean. As a private pilot, GPS' ability to let you go straight to your destination has a hidden danger: it can lead you blithely straight across forbidden airspace.

Sort of the same effect replacing Route 66 and its ilk with interstates had: no one appreciates the stuff between origin and destination anymore.

Marilyn Finnemore said...

Yes! The other day I was so busy staring into my iPhone that I ended up in some alleyway I would generally never have gone down. Suddenly I was face to face with two characters who had no ill intent but surprised me all the same. I was so involved in the virtual world I was completed disconnected from my physical surroundings. Strange, disconnected feeling.