A psychotherapist thinks out loud about Being Human, and stuff…

I don’t like GPS systems.

GPS systems tell you, in the dulcet tones of your choice, one thing: how to get from where you are to where you’re going. If you don’t think about it much, that sounds like all that needs be said. We don’t get lost, we don’t waste time, we achieve our goal, which is to get there, right?


But, there are goals and there are goals, and in a larger sense, being instructed only in how to get to a specific point robs us of much useful experience. For Example, what lies beyond my path? What interesting things and experiences lie a half mile from the route I’m following? What interesting options exist that, were I looking at a map, I might find attractive? What sudden flights of fancy never take wing, because I am unaware of a park or building or geological feature that a map would show me, just off the (usually) certain path dictated by my GPS? I don’t know, and I probably never will know, unless I’ve looked at a map of the area, and maps (I’m told) are becoming things of the past. People are forgetting (or never learning) how to read them, how to orient themselves to the area, thus reducing themselves to a pathetic level of helplessness, should their electronics fail, or mislead them.

Let me go further: what’s the matter with getting lost? Sure, as we’re told, all who wander are not lost, but how about the experience of getting lost and finding your way back? Rick Steves, the travel guru, speaking of Venice, recommends that visitors deliberately allow themselves to get lost, because that’s how unexpected, frequently wonderful, things happen. The same can be said of any geographical location: it’s the unexpected experiences that give us stories we’ll tell for years, and GPS is the enemy of the unexpected. In fact, that’s its purpose. It’s for the goal oriented, single minded person who cares little for his location in any larger sense than the street or road he’s traveling- for another quarter of a mile, then he will turn left onto another street he knows nothing about, a street about which he will experience little and learn nothing because he has eyes only for the signs that correspond to his instructions.

Our GPS creates a tiny bubble in which we move, like a horse with blinders (Google it, kids), deliberately unaware of the interesting, sometimes unforgettable possibilities surrounding us, just beyond the little path dictated by the voice of our GPS.

The solution? Next time you are going someplace, dig up a map of the area- the city or state through which you intend to drive. Learn (or remember) how to find your destination on the map, and then look at the map to see how to get there. I will bet you a modest amount of cash money that you’ll discover something interesting, off what would have been your path, that might be worth a side trip.

Even if I lose my bet, you will have used your brain, your cognitive, problem solving skills, to find your way, rather than letting a machine decide what’s best for you, and that seems to me to be a good thing. I’m not a Luddite, but it seems to me there is such a thing as becoming too dependent on the damned things. If you can’t find your way from where you are to where you want to be, you’ve given away too much, or so I believe. Take it back, before you start seeing maps in antique stores, sold as curiosities that no one any longer knows how to use.

Thus endeth the sermon. If you have anything to say about it, I’d love to hear from you.

In any case, Buckeroos, be kind to one another, and I wish you happy, interesting and, above all, self-determined trails.


Comments on: "The Road Less Travelled." (6)

  1. We got lost in Amsterdam once, and ended up in a kind of scary part of town, completely turned around and unsure how to get back to our hotel. We had a map. As soon as we unfolded it, a succession of very dicey-looking characters started coming up to us and saying “Are you lost? Can I guide you where you want to go? Hmm? Hmm? Can I?” I’m sure they all meant very well and were just trying to do a good deed for some confused American tourists, but at the time, we did entertain some other theories. I sure wished that I could just push a button on my phone and be told exactly how to get back to the hotel, but alas, the phone wasn’t Europe-compatible. I suppose, in some sense, I’m a better person today for having had that experience, but at the time, I would have been glad to forego it.

  2. I’m with you. I love maps, as they reveal a vast array of relationships beyond our immediate grasp. Even more, I love landscapes, and if my map is a bit vague on what I might need to get oriented, I’ll try to find it by sight and dead-reckoning. Yes, this induces delays sometimes, but usually they are interesting delays, revealing more of those subtle networks around us.

    Some cities (and jungles) I wouldn’t do that in at night, though.

  3. Well, okay. Because I was caught up in making my point, I neglected to include the fact that, occasionally, we might not WANT to have an unexpected adventure, even if it broadens us, and does make a good story. I’m reminded of the old Chinese curse (supposedly): “May you live in interesting times”. “Interesting” is not what we’re looking for, sometimes.
    Still, remember Frodo’s words: “I will take it, though I do not know the way”. If he’d been following a GPS, we’d all be speaking the filthy language of Mordor, today.

  4. Yes, yes! I don’t think I could ever come to terms with a GPS. You can’t talk back to them, or argue a point – and sometimes, they are wrong. In Europe, sadly dependent drivers (especially Germans, for some reason) are always driving into ditches, construction sites and buildings, because the GPS told them to go there.

    I’m used to getting lost, myself, and finding amazing things. I do have a working compass in the car, though, and that always helps. Eventually.

  5. […] Brownson (yes, the same one who comments here from time to time) has an interesting post up on his own blog about GPSes and their […]

  6. If one fears the unknown-one fears…. If one has faith, the fear disappears. Take a walk on the wild side, it’s all an illusion anyway

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