GPS Isn’t Making Us Dumb

The problem with the ABC News article entitled “Will GPS Make Us Dumb?” is that it makes a false juxtaposition: map-reading skills with navigation devices’ turn-by-turn directions:

“One effect of an increased dependence on GPS will be that peoples’ ability to read maps will further decay,” [Middlebury College geography professor Anne] Knowles said. “Americans are generally poor map readers. Some cannot read maps at all because it’s not part of our education.
“But what will grow, instead, will be better geographic imagination and awareness. People will see the connections between places more clearly — not quite as accurately — but will better imagine how to get from one place to another because of this technology.”

People have been giving one another directions — verbally, written out turn-by-turn, or in crude hand-drawn maps — for approximately forever; a GPS navigation system is not exactly a new paradigm. It simply allows for geographical awareness without cartographic literacy — in that sense, the analogy with spell-checking is apt, but not in the way that the article’s author expects: spell-checking doesn’t make you less literate; it removes the requirement for you to be more literate. Ditto here: GPS isn’t making us dumb; it’s making it easier for us to stay dumb.

Via GeoCarta.