Mobile navigation and dedicated GPS devices have made it easier to navigate. However, relying on GPS navigation comes at a price – you never learn to go anywhere. It’s a problem.
Advantages and disadvantages of GPS
My world changed when my HTC Eris got an update to enable turn-by-turn on Google Maps. I’ve always been bad at keys. Even places I have visited many times can escape my memory. So having a GPS device in my pocket gave me a lot of confidence to travel.
The problem is that while it makes it easier for me to move around, it doesn’t help me navigate better. We can “turn off” our internal navigation system when using GPS navigation. You don’t have to pay much attention to the roads and landmarks as you pass them. When it’s time to move, you’ll be notified.
Lately, I’ve made a conscious effort to rely less on GPS navigation. Sometimes I’ll start driving and see what happens. Other times, I first look up my destination on Google Maps to create a mental map in my head. If I get lost, I can pull out my phone to find my way. I noticed an improvement in my sailing skills, but what happened?
Science backs it up
This mind map I mentioned is one of the two strategies we use. This is the “Memory Memory Method,” in which you learn the location of objects to create a map of the environment in your head. The second method is “stimulus response planning”, which involves memorizing a sequence of events. Turn left, go five miles, turn right at the gas station, etc. 50 adults between the ages of 19 and 35 were studied. They are all “full-time drivers”, meaning they drive at least 4 days a week in Montreal, Canada. There is no requirement to use GPS in advance.
The participants were given a series of tests that asked them to remember things at the end of the road. It is not surprising that people who used the “stimulus response strategy” made more mistakes when cues were required to remember the route. However, in the landmark hiding place test, they fared better than people’s “space memory systems.” Three years later, 13 of the participants were retested. Those who have relied entirely on GPS since the first trial experienced a significant reduction in space memory.
In other words, they are not very good at using landmarks as a reference for navigation. They don’t use the part of their brain that uses GPS navigation. Although some people are better at navigating, it’s like most things in life – you just have to do it.
GPS is like the rear wheel on a bicycle.
They make riding a bike easier, but you don’t need to balance. When the training wheels come off, you go down. If you don’t sail without the help of GPS, you depend on it.
The more you use it, the more you will want it. That’s why it’s important to ditch the GPS at the same time and navigate at your own pace. You probably lose a lot of time, but even that is a great learning experience. Also, what happens when you’re out of cell signal and can’t use GPS navigation? It is not a pleasant situation. Even when using GPS, it’s important to pay attention to your surroundings at all times.
Look, I got it, GPS navigation is amazing, and I don’t know if I could live without it. However, I don’t want to use Google Maps for every short trip for the rest of my life. You will be able to navigate your own city without GPS. I’m working on it, and maybe you can too.