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Earth Technology

How Does GPS Change Us? 266

Posted by timothy
from the reorientation-session dept.
ATKeiper writes "People have talked for a while about the effects of GPS on our driving ability and our sense of direction; one researcher at McGill has even been developing an exercise regimen to compensate for our supposedly atrophying navigational ability. But is GPS reshaping our lives in a more fundamental sense? The author of this new essay draws on science, sociology, and literature to argue that GPS is transforming how we think about travel and exploration. How can we discover 'the new' in an age when everything around us is mapped?" My own experience is that GPS has made me much more aware of location, by showing me the bird's-eye view, and letting me instantly compare alternate routes.
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How Does GPS Change Us?

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  • by rolfwind (528248) on Thursday August 11, 2011 @11:22PM (#37064980)

    thing around us is mapped?"

    How is this a GPS problem? Maps existed before GPS...

    Also, isn't it like asking "How can I discover new restaurants (or products) when everything is already reviewed?"

    If you want to pioneer, go to the bottom of the ocean or into space. You know, the edges of human knowledge. Don't stay safely within the confines of society and then complain that your "exploration" is already known.

    • by kybred (795293)

      How is this a GPS problem? Maps existed before GPS...

      Yeah. I don't that that is an effect of GPS so much as an effect of the online maps (Google Maps, etc). Of course, those are dependent on GPS, so I guess it's a secondary effect.

    • Arguably, GPS is better than legacy maps if you want to 'discover'; because all it does is(in most module implementations) spit out a NMEA or vendor binary equivalent of x,y,z coordinates, time, and heading at intervals.

      You can have an absolutely blank "map" and still accurately place whatever you find within a reasonably well-behaved coordinate space. Plus, when you get lost, you can breadcrumb your way back home before you have to get all Donner Party on whoever is nearby...

      If you prefer to pick you
      • by AK Marc (707885)
        I'm a GPS addict and managed on more than one occassion to out-orienteer an Army Ranger Orienteering instructor. It's not just being able to use a compass, but to "feel" the lay of the land to sense where the contours on the map are under your feet so that you can make minute corrections with no external references. Following the explicit rules without taking the bigger picture into your head will leave you lost with a very accurate path of how you got there. GPS and extensive use of digital maps don't h
        • Some hikers keep the GPS in their backpack as a backup, look at the tracks and paths on a map, and as the parent poster says look at the contours and lie of the land. They will probably look at the map once or twice per mile in open country. If they intended to walk along the top edge of a wood, but find they reach it at a path entering the middle, a quick check of the map and on they go - they can join their original track at the other side. Often their GPS will show coordinates only, and will be used in a

          • We get the same thing in aviation. You have the folks that regularly use pilotage (visual landmarks checked against a sectional map) and dead reckoning (course calculation, etc) who have a GPS there just for situational awareness (e.g., ensure that they don't wander into a Class Bravo or Class Charlie airspace without permission).

            Then you have the guys who have no idea what a VOR is for and probably couldn't find where they were using a sectional, and they just use the "Direct To" button on their GPS to
          • by drinkypoo (153816)

            You will sometimes see them backtrack 20 yards after a fork in a path and take the other one, rather than angling across country to join it.

            Uh, wait. That's because that's what courteous people to do avoid creating new paths, because foot paths are damage. Your argument against GPS users is that they are doing what is in many cases required by law? Try another.

    • by headLITE (171240)

      The kind of access to maps is different. Also, more things are mapped.

      Almost all my portable gadgets have GPS these days. I can pull out my phone, tablet, or my actual old GPS receiver with openstreetmap data on it, and instanty see where I am, where I can go, how to do that fast, and what places of interest are nearby. Some of the digital maps (especially everything based on openstreetmap) are very flexible regarding modes of travel I want to choose; I can use the same map for fast car routes, scenic bike

    • If anything I am now inclined to discover more. With the ability to get birds eye views of places I am visiting I am walking to all sorts of places I would otherwise have not found or not been keen to go.

    • No kidding (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Friday August 12, 2011 @04:38AM (#37066132)

      On the surface of the Earth, there is no "discovery" if you are talking about finding new lands or something. The whole surface is mapped, with quite a bit of precision. It is all known. The age of discovery, in that sense of the word, is dead.

      Now of course if you want a thrill of personal discovery, you still have that option. You can go exploring any area you like and not use a map, GPS, etc. You can personally enjoy finding out things for yourself, without having looked it up first. You just know that it has in fact been mapped by humans.

      All GPS does is let us know where we are much better than ever before. It is an easy to use tool that makes precise geolocation a reality everywhere except maybe densely forested areas or underground.

    • by AmiMoJo (196126)

      TFA isn't.talking about frontier exploration, merely the joy of visiting new places and discovering all the little nooks and crannies. Like people do on holiday.

    • TFA is about how GPS changes the way our brains understand navigation. It is not about how we shouldn't have maps as much as pointing out that it changes the way people understand their environment.

      • by nospam007 (722110) *

        It also changes they way my money is spent.
        I always use my GPS because it beeps if I'm speeding. Since my gov. introduced point-based licenses, too much speeding tickets get your license revoked. Also >50% overspeeding is now a crime that gets you jail time.
        So I don't have to watch the speedometer all the time to avoid paying up when the cops install a speed trap.
        It also warns me of the fixed radar speed-traps, that get moved around a lot.
        I didn't get a single speeding ticket since I used this.
        I always w

  • Obvious... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by msauve (701917) on Thursday August 11, 2011 @11:22PM (#37064982)
    at least to me.

    I've broadened by navigational horizons. First, by turning on "Avoid Highways," which exposes you to side roads. Secondly, I've found that GPS can show you shorter routes you might never have found/taken because you chose the simple/easy route.
    • by rolfwind (528248)

      My GPS takes longer, side roads rather than the shorter/faster routes without me even asking for it. In this one area, it even gets off the main road and backs up into a side road and takes 3 extra turns, just to get where the main road would have taken me in 1/3 of the time and straight ahead. Another "helpful" routing was that rather go 1 more exit on the highway and be at that destination, it cuts it short and takes me through town's main street with a light every 50 feet. A five minute trip turned in

      • Yeah, you have that thing configured wrong or it just plain sucks. Mine will take different routes at different times of the day based on past traffic patterns, and the worst I can say for it is that it loves major roads, and I don't.

        Which is probably a good thing, if not always optimal. At least they're likely to be able to support the traffic.

        • by dgatwood (11270)

          Both my Garmin and my TomTom do things like that at times. It's not configuration, and it's not the device sucking. It's poor maps that don't know anything about traffic lights.

          Case in point, if you ask for directions to Holy Cross in Santa Cruz from the South Bay, the Garmin directs you to take the left exit onto Ocean Street, take a right at Water, and turn right onto Emmett St. If you don't know what you're doing, that avoids an awkward, light-free left turn at Emmett, but it takes about ten minutes l

          • Re:Obvious... (Score:5, Interesting)

            by bgat (123664) on Friday August 12, 2011 @12:08AM (#37065234) Homepage

            If we could get past the obvious privacy implications, seems like Google Maps et. al could incorporate the route you ACTUALLY took into future requests for similar routes. It always irritates me when I get an obviously sub-optimal route from Google Maps, but it's never clear to me how to actually fix the problem. If Google took feedback from where I actually drove instead, over time the problem might fix itself.

            • by adolf (21054)

              It always irritates me when I get an obviously sub-optimal route from Google Maps, but it's never clear to me how to actually fix the problem. If Google took feedback from where I actually drove instead, over time the problem might fix itself.

              Interestingly enough, they do: Google Map Maker [google.com]. It was (somewhat negatively) covered here on Slashdot awhile back, but I can't be bothered to find TFA just now.

              It's not automatic, but then I don't know that it should be: A lot of what's wrong with a routing system (

      • by icebike (68054)

        Try updating your maps. Its not the Garmin's fault.

      • by Alioth (221270)

        This is why GPS must be used intelligently. You've got to review a route rather than just taking it. At least the TomTom app gives you easy access to see the route (I'll give you the benefit of the doubt, perhaps the user interface isn't all that great on the older Garmins, I have an aviation Garmin from a few years ago and it's very slow, and the UI is shockingly bad).

    • by PPH (736903)

      Avoiding highways and using side roads raises the ire of the locals. Now, instead of sitting in a traffic jam, we can (without fear of getting lost) cut through the adjacent neighborhoods.

      • Re:Obvious... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by icebike (68054) on Friday August 12, 2011 @01:32AM (#37065536)

        Avoiding highways and using side roads raises the ire of the locals. Now, instead of sitting in a traffic jam, we can (without fear of getting lost) cut through the adjacent neighborhoods.

        Not necessarily.

        When people planned trips with gas station maps they never left the freeway. Biggest risk they would take is a US Route.
        When the freeway bypassed small towns those towns died.

        Now with Nav units, and Google maps people will actually choose (horrors) State Highways (yup) when traveling. Recently we were delighted to find some great little towns with nice shops along our route when we deliberately set the the GPS to take us off the freeway via US routes and State routes. The distance was shorter, the view better, and the total time ended up about the same, because there is so little traffic and fewer traffic cops.

        Folks in the restaurant in this one out of the way little berg in eastern Oregon said they saw a lot of people who found the place via Google maps or their GPS, and business had actually picked up since Street View car mapped the entire route. They were glad to have the business as was the local hotel.

        When see the type of highway you will be driving on the back routes are far more fun, and the GPS makes sure you don't end up sleeping in the car.

        • by adolf (21054)

          This, exactly: "Avoid highways" sometimes is almost always shorter, and usually just as fast in the real world. The change from 65-90MPH divided highway driving to "look at that," or "let's stop at this diner" is refreshing and makes trips far more enjoyable whenever time is not of the essence (and sometimes, even when it is)...and the food is better. :)

          But sometimes, I wish my GPS had more than an "Avoid Highways" setting; maybe even "Avoid US route" and "Avoid state routes" toggles.

          "Avoid Highways," bot

          • by Z00L00K (682162)

            Next generation GPS:es should have options where interest points for a route could be added in form of scenic, shopping, etc. Then let the driver decide what scores that are interesting and their weight.

            Of course - also information about dangerous areas should be put out to avoid car jackers or other obnoxious stuff.

            • information about dangerous areas should be put out

              Municipalities would hate that. The companies would be blasted for discriminating against minority and working-class communities. And it's probably not necessary - in the US, I know of plenty of areas that look bad but are actually OK, but almost none that look OK but are actually bad. Keep your eyes open and don't be afraid to turn around.

              • by drinkypoo (153816)

                What we have in my area is retarded signage. On a 55mph road you'll have a sign saying 35 on a turn on which you can easily do 45 even in the rain, followed by a turn which says nothing on which you should be doing 25. It would be nice if the GPS could notify you when you're coming up on something like this (which happens ALL THE TIME on CA Highway 175, for example.)

        • Amen to that, I have had a similar experience in the UK, and the near-straight route to my home town is a whopping 30 miles shorter via the countryside than the motorway (freeway) network, meaning it takes about the same length of time but is a much more pleasant drive (you can't exactly stop for a picnic and feed the ducks at the side of the motorway) AND because you're averaging 40/50 MPH instead of 70 MPH you're fuel efficiency is higher to boot, can almost make the round trip on one tank.

        • by Z00L00K (682162)

          It all depends on if you want to travel fast or if you want to have an experience.

          Setting the GPS on shortest route gives you an interesting way, but you may want to avoid gravel roads in some cases or you end up in someone's back yard. It could be overly interesting in some cases - especially since GPS:es doesn't care about private roads.

          And you are always free to alter the route whenever you like and still reach the goal.

          I have found stuff that I never would have found otherwise if I hadn't been going by

    • That's what I do when I just want to drive around - though I take it one step further and just let it calculate the shortest route between a few random towns I don't recognize. If it warns me there's unpaved roads - all the better!

      It's taken me past more windmills than I knew even existed around here, it's taken me to a little harbor town that looked like it should be a tourist trap but there was barely a soul in sight, it took me past two camels doing the procreation dance (note: I'm in western Europe, an

  • by BlakJak-ZL1VMF (256320) on Thursday August 11, 2011 @11:25PM (#37064994) Homepage

    1) Smart people who know how to take GPS information and couple it with some commonsense / a genuine interest in being a little self sufficient and a little clever about navigation.

    2) People who don't care to know any better, and will simply treat them as a tool that prevents them from having to think. These are the kinds of people who will follow their GPS into a river / off a cliff / the wrong way on a one way street / etc.

    When navigating in a foreign country or in a city i'm utterly unfamiliar with, the GPS is golden. But having only had a personal one for the last few months i'm working hard not to let it dilute my head-for-direction, by continuing to look at flat maps, find points of reference, and continue to let the 'relationships' between geographic locations build in my conciousness, particularly in my home city.

    I've also found that GPS's don't always make smart navigation decisions; for example I don't believe that adding an additional 40% in distance for a theoretical 10% saving in time is actually smart driving, esp when that time saving is based on projected speed limits and doesn't deal to traffic, traffic lights, road works...

    • by plover (150551) * on Thursday August 11, 2011 @11:58PM (#37065180) Homepage Journal

      It's certainly not black and white as you make it out to be. If I want to learn a particular area, I learn it, and the GPS becomes a learning aid. If I'm somewhere on business and just want to function in the region without worrying about where everything is, I'll often let the GPS do all the navigation. I'm not a retard, and don't take illegal exits or carpool lanes just because the stupid box thinks it'll get me there; I just don't need to learn the city. I'm not there to memorize their quirky stripes of concrete, I'm there to meet people and take care of business.

      I've also found there's a wide variety in the quality of the various mapping tools. Some nav units are pretty good (Garmin), some are pretty bad (Sync), but none of the self-contained boxes I've used are as good as Google Maps at finding optimized routes. And none of the nav units is worth crap as far as parsing addresses. Having to type the number independently from the street is awkward. Having to pick a particular stretch of road based on street number (Sync) is a maddening exercise. Google just figures out how to parse whatever I throw at it, and it does a great job of it.

      • by bgat (123664)

        I'm not a retard, and don't take illegal exits or carpool lanes just because the stupid box thinks it'll get me there

        Right. And if Google Maps ever paid attention to the fact that no cars were following that portion of the route, it could conceivably decide on its own that there was something WRONG with the map at that point--- and then stop recommending that route.

        This is the upside of providing location data. Sadly, I don't know how to prevent the downsides.

  • Maps and street signs don't need batteries.

    • by rubycodez (864176)
      i don't know about you, but if I tried to read a map while driving people would die and property would be damaged.
    • by couchslug (175151)

      I keep paper maps (and a compass) but signs in South Carolina aren't much use.

      What I do find useful is printing Google Map Satellite view photos of my destination. I even do this for routine tasks like picking up junk cars. I don't bother using my GPS much.

      • by Z00L00K (682162)

        That's my experience from the US in general - as soon as you leave the main routes you are on your own and best guess to where the road you encounter goes. Maybe I'm spoiled since where I live in Sweden even two houses and a church is enough to have a sign naming the place.

    • by Mspangler (770054)

      "Maps and street signs don't need batteries."

      Nor do compasses. One of next week's projects is to take my daughter out into the National Forest with a map and compass and teach her to navigate, or orienteer as they used to call it.

    • Those "street sign" thingies don't exist in an organized fashion in England and other European countries I've visited where the roads and the locals have been their 700+ years before you showed up who really never put much thought in the fact that most of their streets had no signs.

      Often I found myself driving around a village or town lost, unable to find the side street I was looking for only to find it on the way back out of town realizing it was on a wall or house that was only viewable from the street

    • We ARE already dependent on technology. Maybe even too dependent. If you're worried about GPS removing our ability to navigate, I think you're worrying about the wrong problem.

      Most people around here could not even remotely survive without technology. And I'm not even talking about fancy things like electricity.

    • by c0lo (1497653)

      Maps and street signs don't need batteries.

      And they don't need gasoline for driving the car.
      Neither do they need sails for boats.
      Or even wood only for the fire.

      Did I get your point well?

  • At least a few people every year die because they go out into the boonies with a GPS and no map. The GPS puts them on some kind of goat trail, they get stuck, and then found a month later, dead.
    • by cptdondo (59460)

      Well, yes. I just went through this a couple of weeks ago on a hiking trip. We hiked on snowed-over unmarked trails. Without a GPS it would have been impossible. OTOH we had compasses and maps to back up the GPS and constantly referred back to the printed maps and got a bearing by compass so we knew at all times which way to bail if the GPS died.

      But the USFS was busy recovering people from the same area who went in with a GPS and no maps, and then got totally lost when the GPS died. From what I gathere

      • by fluffy99 (870997)

        Well, yes. I just went through this a couple of weeks ago on a hiking trip. We hiked on snowed-over unmarked trails. Without a GPS it would have been impossible. OTOH we had compasses and maps to back up the GPS and constantly referred back to the printed maps and got a bearing by compass so we knew at all times which way to bail if the GPS died.

        But the USFS was busy recovering people from the same area who went in with a GPS and no maps, and then got totally lost when the GPS died. From what I gathered, 2 rescues / day.... These were unhurt parties who lost their way. No business being out there in the first place.

        Well, a backup GPS and extra certainly helps. :} But yes, you're absolutely right that being able to read a topo map and use a compass is invaluable if all else fails.

      • by AK Marc (707885)
        Absolute basics will save those with no maps or GPS. Walk downhill until you get to a stream. You now have water. Follow that downstream until you hit a road. Stand in the road until someone hits you or stops. I've never seen anywhere that would fail, short of rural Alaska where there are no roads and you would make it to th ocean with those directions, but locals manage to get lost and die in those conditions with great regularity.
        • Absolute basics will save those with no maps or GPS. Walk downhill until you get to a stream. You now have water. Follow that downstream until you hit a road.

          Afaict that will work in most places but it's not foolproof. You could end up at an impassable cliff, in a dry depression, at the enterance to a cave lost in fog etc.

          • by AK Marc (707885)
            Certainly not foolproof, but it would have worked every place I've seen a topo for (lots of Texas and Alaska, and northern New Mexico). You have to at least look at a map before going into the wilderness and you look for things like water that you'd need, and where the water would lead you. And then you'd adjust your failsafe plan if you saw some confound.
      • by nick0909 (721613)
        From my experience working on a Search & Rescue team I must say someone having the knowledge of how to navigate with a map and compass is pretty rare. Congrats on always having a backup, that is what will save you. I have rescued people that were out on a million dollar snow cat with space-aged GPS and laptops with moving maps, it all turned in to a huge pile of useless crap when it slid sideways down a hill and got stuck against some logs. They had no backup, no other plan. Technology won't save you, k
        • by cptdondo (59460)

          Get the book "How to Stay Found" and practice it. My kids and I went out on a practice hike across broken backcountry (no trails, volcanic rock, very broken terrain with collapsed lava tubes, lots of obstacles.) My 13 year old daughter led us with a map and compass for 2 hours. My 10 year old son brought us back. At the end of 4 hours, we ended up about 100 yards from where we started.

          It's not brain surgery. But you have to have a clue and you have to practice.

          Sorry about the misuse of the words. "Res

      • by Hognoxious (631665) on Friday August 12, 2011 @10:51AM (#37068278) Homepage Journal

        The GPS puts them on some kind of goat trail, they get stuck, and then found a month later, dead.

        Well, yes. I just went through this a couple of weeks ago on a hiking trip.

        I must say, you're looking rather well, all considered.

    • Who finds them? I hope it's not the next bunch of travellers who followed their GPS...
      • by plover (150551) * on Friday August 12, 2011 @12:17AM (#37065290) Homepage Journal

        One of my favorite scenes from the movie "Rat Race" was when Whoopi Goldberg followed Kathy Bates' instructions to the freeway without buying a squirrel from her. As they're plunging down the embankment to land in the pile of wrecked cars, they pass a series of hand-lettered signs:

        You
        Should
        Have
        Bought
        A
        Squirrel

    • by rubycodez (864176)
      people have been doing that long, long before GPS, or even the automobile.
    • by plover (150551) *

      Bullshit. Stupidity kills those people, not GPS.

      GPS shouldn't get the blame because someone was capable of buying a unit and following it to his doom. That's like blaming the gasoline in his tank for taking him to the middle of the desert.

      I am so fucking tired of people trotting out these stupid examples, and blaming the technology. Stupid people are always going to find novel ways to remove themselves from the gene pool. If you think they deserve any attention at all, then celebrate them -- read about

    • by vux984 (928602)

      At least a few people every year die because they go out into the boonies with a GPS and no map. The GPS puts them on some kind of goat trail, they get stuck, and then found a month later, dead.

      What would have been different if they had a map instead of or in addition to a gps? They still have seen the goat trail on it, still have gotten stuck, and still found a month later dead.

    • by Mashiki (184564)

      Honestly I'd say it's more of an issue of GPS makers. As part of the "on call" tote alone guys who goes to rescue people when the provincial police, or RCMP can't get to them ASAP, the bigger problem is just that. Those of us in the area know that if you're going down a cowpath, it's a cowpath. And it's sure not rated for a vehicle in the middle of the winter with 2m of snow on the ground. Summer? Well maybe, but it's probably better for a ATV or something similar.

      At least cell phones work if spotty, a

  • by SuperKendall (25149) on Thursday August 11, 2011 @11:28PM (#37065016)

    To the contrary, GPS and live maps are an amazing tool for discovery. Not only can you see potentially interesting things around you, but you feel more at ease going to see them because you know it's easy enough to find your way back to the main path...

    That said, I wish makers of navigation software would make it easier to define many possible side paths you were interested in ahead of time.

    • by Dr. Spork (142693)
      This is not a bad point, and I can sort of relate to what you mean. But still, I find that truly being lost is itself the best discovery tool. You really start paying attention to details when you have that "holy shit, how do I get home from here?" feeling. I've often said to friends that mine is the last generation of humans that will know what it feels like to be lost. That might sound like a good thing, but the human brain has lots of gears in it that are designed for dealing with being lost. I think it'
  • Seriously. While I admit that discovering things for yourself can sometimes be really cool. In a lot of cases, you'll see that people discovering things tend to be in LOTS of trouble (Shackleton anyone?). Like breaking down in a one-horse town after the horse has been stabled for the night.

    On the flip side, I think the fact that you CAN find your way out of an area with GPS makes people more WILLING to go places they don't know.

    Paper maps KINDA filled this niche, but static route plans tend to not surviv

  • Business trips (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Cimexus (1355033) on Thursday August 11, 2011 @11:31PM (#37065030)

    Well I don't usually use GPS much when I'm on holiday, or when I'm in my home country, since I know most of it pretty well after 30 years. But for me the biggest benefit of ubiquitous GPS (first on separate GPS devices, then on phones) is on BUSINESS trips.

    The boss sends you to some random city/country you've never been to before. You land there at 8pm and the taxi takes you to a hotel somewhere. You have a meeting first thing tomorrow morning - how far away is the place you're going? Walking distance or will I need to get a taxi? Is there a train line near the hotel?

    I'm feeling a bit hungry, I wonder if there's a convenience store nearby where I can buy a snack. It's 11pm, most things are shut and I'm in a strange city. I could wander around aimlessly until I find something or I could type in "7/11" or whatever on my phone and see all the nearby locations on the map in relation to me.

    Even more importantly: argh - I'm out of cash, and this stupid shop doesn't accept card payments under . Where's the nearest ATM in this bloody city? Previously, a pain in the ass. Now, no problem at all.

    Basically having GPS in my pocket at all times has made my business trips far less stressful!

    • by mcrbids (148650)

      Basically having GPS in my pocket at all times has made my business trips far less stressful!

      For me, it's ALL kinds of trips! Even towns I kinda know are more pleasant when I can just get to the nearest bank branch, grocery store, fast food joint, hotel, or whatever. It lets me get the inane stuff out of the way without worry, so I have more time and physical/mental energy to enjoy the experience itself.

      Also, a drive is much more pleasant when I can queue up an impromptu TED talk or stream something I actua

    • Your forgetting the most beneficial search of all, where the closest hookers are at! Screw the rest of the stuff, business time is hooker time!
    • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

      by Dr. Spork (142693)
      I don't want to dispute anything you said. I basically agree. For the youngest Slashdot readers who can't imagine how we solved all these problems before Google, the answer is that we were forced to ask real people face to face questions. It's funny how this is not really considered as a socially thinkable option anymore - like it's low-class to ask a person instead of your smarphone.
  • by Psychotria (953670) on Thursday August 11, 2011 @11:56PM (#37065164)

    There still are places, believe it or not, in the world where humans have never (or very rarely) trodden. Even in those places where humans have trodden, there are many that are poorly documented, explored, or studied. I don't think that GPS changes us very much at all. The majority of people still stay at home or close to areas that they know. There are people who rely on GPS to tell them where to go, and what streets to follow. Then there are other people, probably a minority, who go where they need to go to find out something interesting, or research something where there probably aren't any streets; in those cases GPS coordinates are merely extra metadata. I, personally, don't care about the people in cities who need a GPS to find a post office or whatever. For those people doing real work, a GPS is merely a more accurate and modern system of identifying (and recording) coordinates of interesting things.

    • I'd like to add to my comment above that if there are people out there who think the world is "GPSified" then they have lost their sense of wonder.

  • Its a lot harder to be ignorant of the world and of your place in it when you can find just about anything, anywhere, anytime.

    The religious leaders don't like an informed populace.

    They just want them to memorize the Bible/Qran/Torah and do as they're told.

  • [Title asks:] "How Does GPS Change Us?"

    Dependency, stupid.

    Timothy is likely no more "aware of location" now when he isn't tethered to a satellite than when those satellites never existed at all. The technology hasn't really changed him at all, he's just dependent upon it.

  • by rocketPack (1255456) on Friday August 12, 2011 @12:23AM (#37065316)
    I used to have to ask someone where the nearest this or that could be found. I used to have to ask how to get from A to B. Local landmarks used to be paramount in navigation and route finding. Now we can haplessly ignore the locals and find our own way straight to the restaurant we chose based on Yelp reviews. Word of mouth is not very useful anymore, at least not in the traditional sense. What I'm getting at, is that smaller cities/towns lose control of their identity. It's the internet that decides which restaurants and hotels are the best, and how to get around town. I'm not trying to commend on whether or not this is better or worse, but it's hard to find one piece of technology which has contributed so much to this trend.

    GPS has removed the need to "memorize" local street patterns or common routes. Why bother to remember how to get to your favorite vacation spot when GPS will "always" be there to guide you? (Again, this is stripping local landmarks of their significance)

    In another sense, GPS (GNSS for those of you modern enough to embrace foreign constellations) has really complicated the idea of "location." The instability of consumer-grade GPSr observations and the steep price curve for more accurate instruments has created a rather cluttered mess. Everyone seems to think that their coordinates are better than the other guy. I'm in the land surveying/geomatics field, and even at that level GPS is rarely brought up in legal disputes because it's just not an acceptable replacement for good old fashioned direct measurements (or acceptable substitutions, like EDMs).

    In my opinion, GPS/GNSS has not solved *any* issues in the civilian world. It has (over)simplified and depersonalized navigation (non GNSS alternatives exist and have worked wonderfully for centuries), created clutter and confusion, and in conjunction with the internet helped to strip local societies of their identity.
  • The GPS may have hurt exploration, but it was already put on life support by by the cell phone (which greatly reduces the danger associated with exploration) and Flickr & YouTube & Street View. With physical exploration dead, youth now instead explore societal bounds (to the detriment of society).
  • Many GPS units do not have adequate filtering against RF interference from adjacent spectrum. LightSquared owns 1500Mhz spectrum that it wants to use for terrestial LTE networks. Currently it interferes with GPS, but it is really the GPS's industry's fault, not LightSquared. The implication is that we may have to re-buy much of the GPS units we now own, because current units will be worthless when LTE turns on their LTE network. The FCC is trying to figure out how to solve this problem, but it seems inescap

  • by javakah (932230) on Friday August 12, 2011 @12:31AM (#37065352)

    A few points:

    Q. How do we discover the 'new'?
    A: We are more likely to discover the new BECAUSE of GPS. Without GPS you are much more likely to stick with major routes to your destination. With our (perhaps over-) confidence in the guidance of GPS, we are more prone to take out of the way routes as suggested by the GPS. This is how we can discover the 'new'. Additionally with confidence in GPS, I know that I am a lot more willing to try to even go to new places that I haven't been before. I can tell you from personal experience that just going with printed Mapquest directions and a map or two does not lead to marital bliss and made me not want to go to new places nearly as much. It's far better going to new places now that we have GPS.

    Q. Is it damaging our navigational ability?
    A: Does the use of a compass also damage our navigational ability? You could argue that the GPS in fact can help our navigational ability by showing us how distorted our own viewpoint can be. You find the same thing though with a compass.

    Q. Is it changing how we think about travel and explorations?
    They point to the need for more multi-tasking skills, etc. This may be a change for Baby Boomers, but I would argue that it's actually moving navigation into sync for the younger generation. We are used to multi-tasking. Additionally, when I first got a GPS, it felt EXTREMELY comfortable. Suspiciously so. Then I realized that it was a real-life mini-map! I was tremendously used to navigating in less familiar (albeit virtual) environs with the help of a minimap, while keeping most of my attention on the new environs, after all, if I didn't pay attention to where I was going in the world before, I could run into some nasty dragon, etc. The younger generation is already thinking about travel and exploration in the way that GPS pushes us, due to video games.

    • by Shuntros (1059306)
      Try aviation GPS, that's a whole new level of comfortable. Instead of correlating the information presented to you by a bunch of different gauges tuned to 60yr old radio beacons you just follow the pink line. Need to land at an airport in thick fog? No problem; switch on approach mode and simply fly through the boxes displayed on the screen, or enable synthetic vision mode and you essentially get a video-game recreation of the terrain, runway, everything.. just not the fog.

      Another poster was right, GPS is
  • by Whatsisname (891214) on Friday August 12, 2011 @12:42AM (#37065394) Homepage

    From the summary:

    My own experience is that GPS has made me much more aware of location, by showing me the bird's-eye view, and letting me instantly compare alternate routes.

    You apparently don't know what GPS actually is, because GPS has nothing to do with bird-eye views nor comparing alternate routes. All GPS does is tell you the time and where on the planet you are.

    Routing and mapping are not exclusive to GPS.

    • by nick0909 (721613)
      I get a kick out of showing people the GPS I use for hiking/snowmobiling. It shows my coordinates, and lets me point an arrow towards other coordinates. No maps, no trails, no color, just on 1 inch screen. The battery lasts forever, its waterproof, totally reliable. But people see it and say "ewwww how do you know where you are?" I don't need a big color picture, but most people do I guess, and that is "GPS" for the rest of the world.
      • by adolf (21054)

        I assume by "people" you mean folks who aren't also hikers/snowmobilers.

        Half of the fun of hiking is paying attention to surroundings and finding a different/more interesting/faster path from A to B. And for that, an arrow pointing the way might even be ideal over a map or a chart.

        I don't do much hiking, so I have no use for standalone basic GPS+compass gear which has long battery life. But I do the same thing in the car, sometimes, with the Droid: Set a waypoint with [random GPS app], and go there -- no

  • About 5 years ago I ditched my car and replaced it with a bicycle. What hit me pretty quickly (especially since I wasn't in great shape) was that I didn't want to ride around for hours on end finding things. In a car, if you make a mistake or simply want to try a new route somewhere, going an extra couple of km is nothing. On the bike it was frustrating, tiring and at the end of it I was always worried if I would remember how to get home again (without adding an extra 5 km to my trip). The GPS made a hu

  • by tanveer1979 (530624) on Friday August 12, 2011 @01:19AM (#37065484) Homepage Journal

    I use GPS quite heavily, but most of my usage is moving map apps, which do not try to route for me. They show me a map, where I am, and where I am headed, Its upto me to chose the route and explore.
    Now maybe 5 years ago, when I did not have any GPS, I would have never dared to explore a 200km long salt flat.
    But today, I can leave the main road, drive in the flat laying down my GPS track. If I am unable to find an exit point, all I do is retrace my track.

    I has also helped me explore some high altitude himalayan deserts. No roads are marked, just a black space showing me my "track". By looking at the compass, and having a town on the other end as my "destination" I can plan my route by hit and trial.

    For example, I recently went to a lake system called Kyun Tso in the himalayas.
    As I left the last village, the track bifurcated into multiples. I took the vehicle up the wrong track and ended up on a 4700m high flat plain.
    But no panic, we took some pics, admired the view, and then followed our track back to the fork, and then took the other one.

    So we could actually "explore" without fear of getting lose 5000m above sea level.
    Considering, some locals do this once a week or even less, if you get lost up there, help can be days away.

    But GPS allows you the freedom to be an explorer.

    I quickly have mapped all that on openstreetmap, and future offroaders can follow my tracks easily.

    Then there is the dark side.
    When I am in US, I am tempted to let the navigation app to do my routing, and often I end up on roads I do not want to be on. For example, a freeway 20kms long can be cut short by a 5km path within the town, the app chooses that, and I end up spending 1 hour in traffic jams.
    So yes, its good, and bad.

    Last but not the least, there was a story some time back "Death by GPS".
    This is what you get for blindly trusting your navigation app.

    So best way is to use your GPS as an informer, or a walking stick, not as your crutch.

  • by stretch0611 (603238) on Friday August 12, 2011 @01:26AM (#37065516) Journal

    Thanks to GPS, I truly don't need to ask directions...

  • I got my first GPS more than a decade ago - primarily for geocaching. I got TomTom Navigator in 2002. Has it changed me? I reckon so. My sense of directions has definitely faded. I rely quite heavily on a device to tell me where to go, and I simply do not waste any braincycles on the road to the destination.

    Like on of the above posters, the biggest benefit for me is business trips. Before phones had built in GPS I had a small Dell PDA with built in GPS solely for business trips.

    Also, I remember getting lost

  • My own experience is that on those rare occasions when I need to ask someone directions, no one has any idea where anything is, even if they live or work in the area I am lost in. I'm not sure whether to blame GPS, or general human stupidity. Luckily, my phone GPS usually works.
  • I tend to log GPS data for uploading to OpenStreetMap so I stick very closely to the speed limits, and slow down when I'm negotiating complex twisty side streets so I get better resolution.

  • I've been traveling on the job for 35+ years and have a map in my head. I don't 'need' GPS to find my way around, but it's handy to have. It displays my speed more accurately than the speedometer and it gives a fairly accurate time of arrival.

    When I go to another state to work I ask for the opinions of the guys I'm working with to tell me which local places are the best for breakfast and dinner.
  • GPS has turned the majority of the car drivers around here into digital lemmings. Some would not even recognise their own home without a tin can voice announcing "destination reached".
  • The thing that atrophies your sense of direction the most is the external navigator that does the thinking for you. This navigator can be a person next to you or can be a functionality of your GPS app. It's this external help that does the thinking for you that makes you lose every sense of where you are and where you are going.

    But the fact that GPS shows you at all times where you are on a map, does that hurt? Maybe, but whatever effect that has might be very variable. In any case I'd separate it from the

  • by ctrl-alt-canc (977108) on Friday August 12, 2011 @04:33AM (#37066112)
    I spent about 15 years in the boy-scout movement, and I learned pretty well how to walk in the world using maps, compass, sun and stars for finding my way to home. Furthermore, it is about 35 years I practice mountain hiking and climbing, often alone, and never got into troubles when I had to find my path. This experience has been fruitful also when it comes to driving: it is quite surprising how easy it is to find your road, when you have the ability to think in terms of cardinal points, notable references and you have in your mind a rough image of the territory you are crossing. So I never use a GPS in my daily activities, but I rescued twice people in the mountains who were into deep troubles, because they had neither map nor compass, but only a GPS with all the waypoints loaded in the memory, and a empty battery.
    However I do have a small GPS tracker, and I use it when I go around in the woods picking up mushrooms and truffles: if you combine your findings with coordinates using geostatistics [arizona.edu] you get very interesting maps. And no, I am not going to publish them on the web!
  • by Qbertino (265505) on Friday August 12, 2011 @05:41AM (#37066356)

    Was navigating a car from the backseat, back from a night out. It's a town I don't live in and we often use a 'Navi' (german layman term equivalent of 'GPS' in the U.S.). However, the Navi was packed away, since I knew the way from the venue to where we were going. But I was chatting with the lady next to me and we missed a turn. It's been ages since, but I instantly went into 'landmark, neighbourhood and general direction' mode and we got to the destiny with barely any delay. And that was across a river, with another river nearby and on the other side of town.

    I'd say navigating without artificial assistance is a skill like bicycle riding. Once learned you won't forget it. It's a also a lot about taking calculated risks. And I do remember turning pages in huge road atlases, cursing every time about how tedious the task of connecting one double-page to an adjacent is, and thinking up better methods. Alas, back then we did know the concepts, didn't we? But the technology just wasn't there or cheap enough. I figure you could build a decent Navi on my DOS Pocket PC from the early 90ies - only they weren't widespread enough for it to be feasable. Mercedes Benz had only started working on digital roadmaps, smaller flywheel compases and stuff a few years earlyer.

  • ... in my mom's basement. And of course I'm way too fat to leave...

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