When was the last time you relied on your actual eyes to get you somewhere? You know, those things you use to stare at your smartphone. Just above your nose? There’s two of them, honestly you can’t miss them.
Nope, like everything else in life, most of us now rely on our phones, and the GPS that’s built into all of them, to direct us – whether that’s a short walk round the corner, a drive through the city, or a cross-country haul. And the idea of using an actual, physical map? You must be joking, granddad.
But it turns out that our reliance on this technology is messing with our actual, real-life sense of direction. Which means we rely on the tech even more. If the space debris gets too bad and knocks out all the satellites, we’ll just be roaming around like little lemmings, ready to be pushed off cliffs at any minute.
Research suggests that constantly using GPS is actually changing our brains, as the hippocampus – the part of the brain which deals with spatial awareness – actually grows the more it is used; for example, a 2006 study on London cabbies found that theirs were larger than average (as probably, were their memory storage of stories of people they’d once had in the back of their cab). Some researchers have speculated that the opposite may be true, and the hippocampus may shrink with less use.
Another study observed that hikers who relied on GPS could not remember their route as well as people who used physical maps. Although, these are the people that also end up having to be rescued from mountains when they go out of 4G range and their phones stop working, so maybe they’re just a bit more stupid.
Satellite communication consultant Roger McKinlay wrote in the Telegraph how, "Drivers in a simulator who follow satellite navigation instructions find it more difficult to work out where they have been than those who use maps… Instructed drivers also fail to notice that they have been led past the same point twice.”
The New York Times explains how to re-set your sense of direction: stop using all technology and start taking in the physical features of the environment around you as you travel, and practice orienting yourself before setting off – are you going north, south, east or west? If you’re constantly using your brain to help you navigate, then it will get better at it over time.
And remember, if all else fails, you may have forgotten that there are these things called ‘signs’ that can help you get where you need to go.
On the other hand, if we completely gave up on Sat Navs, then we’d miss the majesty of this wouldn’t we?