digital nation - life on the virtual frontier

Are we all about to get lost?

May 19, 2009 _ 10:37 / Digital Nation Team / comments (0)

The Guardian reports today:

US government officials are concerned that the quality of the Global Positioning System (GPS) could begin to deteriorate as early as next year, resulting in regular blackouts and failures - or even dishing out inaccurate directions to millions of people worldwide.
... The satellites are overseen by the US Air Force, which has maintained the GPS network since the early 1990s. According to a study by the US government accountability office (GAO), mismanagement and a lack of investment means that some of the crucial GPS satellites could begin to fail as early as next year.
"It is uncertain whether the Air Force will be able to acquire new satellites in time to maintain current GPS service without interruption," said the report, presented to Congress. "If not, some military operations and some civilian users could be adversely affected."

"Adversely affected" may be an understatement of the impact on those of us who have become dependent on GPS devices to find our way around. I live in New York City and don't have a car, but I still use the GPS feature on my iPhone on a daily basis. It's how I find restaurants, orient myself coming out of the subway and navigate unfamiliar terrain. Could I do without it? Sure. But now that I've grown used to it, like anything, it will be harder to give up because I know what I would be missing.

I imagine the transition would be just as frustrating for drivers. We've gone from planning out our routes on paper maps to printing out directions from sites like MapQuest and Google Maps to hopping in the car and presuming the GPS will show us the way.

But while these conveniences are nice, perhaps we're missing out on things we took for granted before GPS. Now that I find nearby restaurants on my phone and peruse the reviews on my way there, I no longer experience the pleasure of finding a charming hole-in-the-wall shop and enjoying its food with no expectations. There are no longer any surprises, and the joy of discovery is lost.

Similarly, in my travels, I spend so much time with my head buried in my phone, looking at my blinking dot move across the digital map, I fear I'm overlooking the amazing sights and sounds along the way. Some of my favorite discoveries in life have come from getting lost. Now I've become so focused on the destination that I've neglected the journey. What have I been missing?

Then again, I'm not ready to turn in my phone or lose my GPS service. Perhaps these experiences -- stopping and smelling the roses, so to speak -- are simply unavoidable casualties of a modern life. What do you think? Are we GPS-dependents missing out or just getting more done faster?

-Jeff

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posted February 2, 2010

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