GPS or Bust.
I’ve written on this subject before, characterizing the modern American traveler as being “cartographically-challenged”. But things have now progressed to a stage beyond that. Now, many travelers will not consult a map, no matter what. It’s a similar syndrome to the users of a new device, who won’t read the manual (which has led to the coining of an expression among tech support people: RTFM – Read The Fucking Manual). Many city people have become so dependent on their GPS devices (they are very useful in cities, no doubt) that they have become simply unwilling to resort to other navigational aids, such as maps and written-out directions. I’ve documented people passing by perfectly obvious landmarks because they were either looking at their GPS devices at the moment, or their devices told them they weren’t there yet. I had a conversation with a person who was looking for a location a mile up the road. I said: “It’s a mile up the road”. She said: “But my GPS says it’s here”. I again said: “It’s a mile up the road” and she again said: “But my GPS says it’s here”. Once again, I said: “It’s a mile up the road”. She then reluctantly got back into her car and drove up the road. And its not that people feel particularly secure when depending on their GPS devices. They cling to the GPS like a drowning person clings to a line.
Don’t get me wrong. These are marvelous devices. But they should not be your only tool for finding your way. The ability to navigate – knowing where you are, where you are coming from, where you are going and in which direction you are heading – is a critical human skill. The invention of the compass and sextant (along with other devices), and the subsequent mapping of the world was the paramount scientific challenge of the times and a hallmark achievement of our species. To throw that away, and depend on an undependable device is a mistake. Cell phones do run out of juice, and GPS can become unreliable outside of the city. Not everywhere you want to go has a street address, and the GPS is of little use once you’ve left the road.
Once-upon-a-time, as an Outward Bound instructor, I labored long and hard in teaching students the use of topographic maps and compass. A map and compass enable a person to move efficiently through terrain, while knowing at all times his/her location. Acquiring skill with these resources was the indispensable element in completing the Outward Bound course successfully. In the mountains and canyons, no device can take the place of the map and compass. Only on perfectly flat terrain or on water can a GPS be put to use.
Today, I encountered a pair of travelers who had difficulty finding their destination with their cell phone GPS unit. I told them to go three more miles up the road, to a spot identified with abundant signage. They went 8 miles up the road. Did they look at their odometer, to know when they had gone three miles? Apparently not, nor did they notice the signs. Obviously, the passenger was looking at her phone the entire time. But what was the driver doing? Was she not looking around? I find it astounding that so many people have rendered themselves so clueless when out of the city, all because they believe that their cellphone GPS has all the answers. For them, it’s get there via GPS or bust.