GPS: Helping or Hurting?

You’re sweating ┬ábullets because, just three minutes ago, your TomTom GPS unit cut out on you due to poor satellite reception. You’re in the middle of nowhere in what looks to be a not too friendly neighborhood, and you’re low on gas. You have no idea how to get back onto the highway you just got off of because, quite frankly, you are not Magellan (but you wish you’d bought one).

Seconds later, after you’d already played out the potentially hundreds of scenarios that would occur if you stayed lost (“I could get attacked by a bear!” you think to yourself), your GPS reconnects with those satellite signals that you’ve just now begun to label “Hope”. You’re saved.

“In 200 feet, turn left onto Route 66,” quips your GPS. Wow, what an idiot.

It’s a scenario that, surely, is becoming more and more commonplace. I’ll admit, I’ve definitely been that guy before. The one that rides out on his chariot (aka car), foolishly believing that nothing can ever, ever go wrong with their trusty little piece of technology. Then bam! When you least expect it, you’re stuck. In the middle of nowhere. And you’re forced to either drive around asking strangers for directions, or simply wait until the stars align just right, and your GPS starts working again.

And the problem isn’t the technology itself. GPS is fine. GPS is pretty damn reliable. The problem is our over reliance on it.

What do I do when someone sends me the directions to an event or gathering? I throw them out. Instead, I look up the address and hope that my GPS is able to figure out where in the world that place is. Otherwise, I’m stuck. I’ll tell them that I had car trouble and couldn’t make it. If I’m making deliveries and my GPS craps out? I’m probably getting fired.

And I’m not the only one. GPS has become increasingly more common as a standard feature in vehicles. And for those without, it’s available on the cheap as a separate device. As a result, more and more people have become reliant on using GPS to help navigate.

Certainly, that over reliance can be pretty detrimental if we’re trying to navigate around by ourselves. But in other, more absurd instances, it can even unintentionally misguide people.

In one instance, Lauren Gneiding, a resident of Clinton Township in New Jersey, it resulted in a lot of unwanted traffic for her driveway. She claims that, due to a glitch in Google Maps, many random visitors looking for a local park ended up in her driveway because the map system indicated that it was a possible route of entry.

But although being misguided by a GPS is often uncommon, and rarely life-threatening, years of relying on a GPS can result in other more discrete, but severely destructive consequences.

According to researches at McGill University, an over reliance on GPS can also hurt our brains, too. According to their research, subjects that were more inclined to navigate without the help of a GPS had higher activity in the memory and navigation portions of the brain, and appeared to be less likely to be affected by such diseases as Alzheimer’s.

It should go without saying that, as cliche as it sounds, too much of anything is a bad thing. So, while GPS is often extremely useful, it’s important to understand that being over attached to the technology can result in some dire situations and potential consequences.

Unfortunately, until there’s a better alternative, I’ll probably be abusing GPS technology until the day it forces me to accidentally fly off a cliff or into a river. Oops.