GeoCarta Has Moved

Jun 17, 2008

Is GPS Making us Dumb?

"Is Google Making Us Stoopid?" -- When Atlantic Monthly posed that question on its cover recently it set off a whole anti-technology backlash. Now Cloe Shasha at ABC News has joined the chorus, asking "Is GPS Making us Dumb?" and claiming that our reliance on GPS devices may result in the loss of our sense of direction:
When we develop a crutch for technology, we lose the ability to do that which we did previously," [Ian] White said. "It couldn't be more true. People become more and more reliant, and their expectations get bigger and bigger, and if technology doesn't deliver, they get frustrated."

One problem with Ms. Shasha's argument is that she presupposes that everyone actually had a sense of direction in the first place. Lots of people, my wife included, don't. Of course, as a land surveyor, I am fortunate to have a flawless sense of direction. In fact, the first thing my father (also a land surveyor) taught me was that land surveyors are never lost.

Technology should be used, not feared. Still there are limits to how much trust even I would put in technology. Thaindian News reports today that it will soon be possible for airplanes to land on aircraft carriers using GPS with no input from the pilot at all. I've read similar statements about commercial airliners. I'm sorry, but GPS or no GPS, if I'm in that plane, I want the pilot to have both hands on the wheel.