My GPS Is Making Me Stupid!

by Joanna Pineda Posted on July 14, 2010

I had an early meeting in Hyattsville this morning.  I was armed with my Garmin GPS and printed directions from Google Maps — I still got lost. I had to call my husband for extra navigational assistance.  He was incredulous on the phone: “Don’t you have Jane (the GPS) with you?  Did you follow the directions from Google?”  Yes and yes, but I was still lost.

How is this even possible?  For the last nearly 20 years (how did I get so old?), I have been in sales in the DC area.  I feel like I have driven to most corners of the region.  I know this region and I do not get lost!!!  How on earth did I get lost this morning?  And how did I get lost when I had so many tools at my disposal?

I have a hunch that all of these digital assistants are making me stupid. How and why?

Well, long before cell phones, GPS systems and Google/Mapquest maps, I would get directions the old fashioned way.  I would call the prospect or client and get detailed directions. Mr. client would ask me where I was coming from and he would give me directions that included navigational clues like:” go 4 lights then turn right; if you see the Giant, you’ve gone to far; or go about 3 miles and then get on 95 on your right.”  I would also get really helpful suggestions, like “don’t go through the City at that time of day, take the Beltway.”  I would heed these directions and almost never get lost.  And if I did get lost, I would find a gas station and ask the always-friendly attendant for help. Oh yeah, I also used to carry around maps with me, but I tossed those when I got my GPS; silly me!

I can’t remember the last time I called for directions or the last time I stopped at a gas station for directions.  Along the way, while using my digital assistants, I lost the important navigational clues that helped me successfully navigate from one sales call to another.  I have come to rely on my Jane the GPS and Google maps so much that I feel like I have lost my ability to navigate on my own! Now I wonder what other abilities I’m losing as a result of my reliance (some would say over-reliance) on these electronic devices and online services.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not giving up Jane anytime soon and Google maps is one of my best friends.  And to be truthful, I *know* I got lost because Jane could not get any satellite reception and the Google maps directions were confusing.  But perhaps next time, I’ll call for directions ahead of time and avoid giving my husband another case of navigational heartburn.

How about you? What electronic device do you rely on?  What have you given up as a result?  And how’s your driving these days?

9 replies on “My GPS Is Making Me Stupid!”

We regularly have heated discussions in our house about how the beep in new cars that tells you when you are about to hit the car behind you, must be eroding our ability to judge distance between 2 objects. And how automatic windows must surely be changing our wrist action (or inaction). For this reason we have boycotted having a GPS in our car so that we don’t lose one more skill – finding our way. Ironically, we already had automatic windows ……….

Joanna worried about the drawbacks of technology!? Is this Joanna or an impostor!? ;-)!

I am sure when the car started becoming popular there were those who feared the loss of horseback riding and wagon driving skills. The popularity of books after the invention of the printing press also most likely lead to weakening vision and the rise of the use of glasses. Somehow, we were able to work around all those things.

All these things are incredible inventions, and I feel privileged living in an age that creates them. The fact that we can have a fear of becoming stupid will itself keep us from becoming stupid. Embrace and enjoy the technology, and one day, go out and use a paper map for practice & fun if you’re worried about it, but otherwise, I’m not too worried about what I am losing from technology. Instead, I am grateful for what I have thanks to it.

I LOVE my GPS (Her name is Karen, by the way). I use it all the time, I even use it as a speedometer in my antique truck since the speedo is busted. Google maps is a nice add, and it’s great to see the distance between two points and to reconnoiter an area before driving there. Generally, when going to a new place I’ll study the satellite views to see what type of neighborhood it’s in and if there’s any obstacles I should be aware of.

As for the skills go, I do agree that relying on electronic devices allows one to lose their “edge”, but most likely does not make us stupid, and in the grand scheme of things, allows us to get more done, faster. I no longer ever have to worry about where I’m going, the GPS tells me the way, and is that really much different than my wife sitting in the passenger seat telling me the directions? She navigated this trip – in 2005 with an atlas.

One other thing that helps a lot, I think is to teach kids while they are young the tenets of navigation. I’ve grown up camping and hiking in the woods and been through my fair share of navigational challenges. After finding my way 8 miles into a forest in the rain, at night with a flashlight, compass, and topographical map; a little suburbia does not present too much of a challenge.

Thanks for another awesome blog!


Thanks for the great comments! LOL, don’t worry, I’m not about to give up my GPS (my marriage likely wouldn’t survive) and I’m certainly keeping my gadget budget intact. I will, however, make sure my car has up-to-date maps. Love the idea of teaching my son early to navigate via a printed map!

Who remembers phone numbers now that we never actually dial? Some people (my mom) were never very good at remembering them, but I still know the phone numbers of my best friends from high school. Now I can maybe manage my parents’ number and my own.

Technology didn’t like what I wrote and ate the post I carefully tapped out on my Blackberry! I’ll try to recreate it.

While I swear I’m not a Luddite, I don’t like machines doing all my thinking for me. I am most offended by the cars that parallel park for you (I think Lexus makes them). If you can’t parallel park, you shouldn’t be driving. And if you can’t see behind you (rearview cameras), you need a smaller car and/or to be more careful.

I’m also anti-GPS, mainly because I’ve had a few experiences with GPS giving directions that are completely wrong (“Make a u-turn. Drive 500 feet. Make a u-turn.” Um, that’s the way I was already going and yes, this did happen to me.). I still keep maps in the car and I’m lucky to have a good sense of direction. I do my best to research my route (and an alternate) before I leave, but if I can’t, I muddle my way through. One of my other GPS gripes is that it focuses too much on your next action, not the ones that come after that, so you don’t get a good picture of your full route. Yes, I know that you can access that info, but it seems to take too many steps.

When I had friends over a few weeks ago, I wrote very detailed directions for them, with landmarks, #s of lights, etc. and customized to where they’d be coming from – the exact kind of directions that I love to get. Turns out that no one used them! A few people admitted to getting lost and a few people said they figured they’d wing it.

To each his/her own, I guess.

Alyson, I used your detailed directions when coming to your house for your birthday! They were perfect and I certainly appreciated them. No GPS would have told me where to park and where to exit from the parking garage!

Over two thousand years ago, in a story described by Plato in Phaedrus, Socrates argues to the young man of the dialogue’s name that writing destroys one’s ability to remember, and that people trade the actual possession of knowledge for the illusion of knowledge by writing things down in scrolls rather than internalizing them.

The jury’s still out on writing: suffice it to say that the debate over whether the increased powers technology offers us are worth the loss of other faculties has been going on for a long time!

Personally, I suspect that the amount of mental energy and time you save by not having to exchange those detailed directions every time you go some place new is well worth the infrequent times that the new system fails. But I understand the feeling of loss that comes with facing a new dependency!

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