Sunday, March 18, 2012

Opinion: Have We Lost the Ability to Get Lost?

Montana-in-mount-with-map.jpgGPS technology is ever expanding and improving and changing. It seems that every week there is a new tracking device being launched and constant updates to dedicated mapping GPS devices. Many of us (myself included) sometimes take it for granted that we can find our way to just about anywhere with the power of technology. We take it for granted, and expect that it will always be there. But technology isn’t infallible and isn’t always around during times of emergency. When Hurricane Sandy hit, power outages lasted for several days at a time–way longer than the battery of most devices.

In all of our technology-driven society, it seems like some important things have been lost. The ability to get lost and discover new things. The ability to find your way without staring at a screen before or during your trip. The drive to wander and just see where things take you. Basic ability to read a map and conduct yourself without technology to aid. How many kids even know how to read a map or find their way to an unfamiliar location without a computer-mapped route?

With GPS chips in smartphones making everyone constantly on the grid and trackable, it isn’t too surprising that some people have forgotten how to unplug and just wander. If we haven’t lost the ability to get lost, then maybe we have misplaced the desire. It can be tempting to map everything out when you leave the house for a trip. Your internal compass and directional sense is probably less reliable than a super accurate computer with aerial mapping and realtime GPS positioning. But you lose the journey on the way.

It’s scary not knowing where you are or where you’re going. But as some of our readers can probably attest, getting off the grid and exploring is the best part. GPS is useful for getting you home, but for getting there? Well, I would argue that isn’t half of the journey—it’s almost all of it. One of the best road trips I’ve ever had involved pulling out the atlas and just driving, taking the time to pull over and stop whenever we saw something interesting. On the way, we found the best authentic 50s chrome trailer-style diner with the most delicious cocoa I have ever tasted. We were slightly lost, and I have no idea where it was or what the name of the restaurant was. I’ll probably never find it again. But those one-time experiences are half of the fun.

Still not convinced to turn off you dedicated GPS unit and close Google Maps? Just read Matt Gross’ articles for the New York Times about getting lost in foreign countries. If that doesn’t want to make you turn off your tech and just wander, then nothing will.

So, while GPS is a truly wonderful and remarkable technology that can improve our lives in a myriad of ways, don’t forget to still have adventures sometimes. It isn’t about knowing where you are or where you’re going—it’s about getting there.

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