I recently had the privilege of spending a few days in Indiana. During the time I was there, I had the chance to sit on a front porch swing, see many cornfields, and contemplate the use of GPS.
The first two are pretty straightforward, so I will just skip to what, for me, was the most fascinating part of the visit. It was not the ubiquitous use of GPS, but how it was no longer even noted by the users. Five years ago, when my first friend or two had a GPS navigator in their cars, it was pretty much the center of attention of the ride because it was so novel. It was also annoying, and it generally caused more problems than it "solved." Two or three years ago, when a few more people had a GPS telling them where to turn and such, especially when they went Out of Town (aka "No! Don't make me look at that big scary map! Waaaaaaah!! Mommy!"), it was officially becoming a pervasive part of the landscape. People began to joke together about the perceived personality of the guiding voice and the symbolism in "recalculating."
But this month, on my visit to Indianapolis, there was no comment whatsoever upon the use of GPS, as opposed to not using it, other than in my head. It was accepted as a given, you see, by multiple people in multiple situations. And I am wondering when we crossed that line.
I dislike that line. I have no use for a GPS, and I'll tell you why: because I know how to read a map/figure out where I'm going/ask for directions/read context clues/use problem-solving skills. There are several things I can think of off the top of my head that I dislike about GPS dependence, but I'll just concentrate on that main one here. When I see someone so quick to pop an address into his/her GPS, I know something about that person. It's not necessarily that s/he doesn't know how to get somewhere, but that s/he doesn't know how to figure out how to get somewhere. That disturbs me.
It's not only the people we happened to see in Indiana, of course. I commented on some random blog just the other week because I was astonished at how amused the blogger was by herself and her utter inability to drive anywhere without GPS - even in her own metropolitan area! And when we were in Istanbul, one of my Habitat trip mates was all about using her handheld GPS to find her way to Istanbul landmarks, which were generally right in front of her once she looked up from the device.
Also, what I want to know is: are the people in the GPS cult even half as aware as the rest of us that it's not foolproof? That in the same way being able (usually!) to check your bank balance online is no substitute for knowing how much is in your checking account, being able to (usually!) get on-the-spot directions from a "magical" technological voice is no substitute for knowing where you are.
Important note: It is possible that my GPS-lovin' friends who read this blog will think this is an "insult" that is "directed" at them. I have already stated that this is a commentary on the widespread use of GPS, therefore not directed at anybody in particular. Also, oh well -- we are in fact adults now, and there are some things you should be capable of when you are over 25. Reading a map is one of them.