Lost in Place

May 1st, 2016

  Pamela Pavliscak

GPS Error

I'll admit it. I have a GPS problem. I have long wanted a "getting nervous now" option so that GPS could reassure me that I'm still on track or give me more advance notice of an upcoming turn. And I still get lost.

Like most people, I rely on GPS anyway. And it's changing how I think, or maybe don't think, about the world around me.

It turns out that we have a kind of innate GPS. We calculate our position in space, orienting toward the north or searching for a top. Physical maps help us build these cognitive maps. We remember. We build reference points to anchor ourselves in the world.

Maybe we imagine a bit too. Maps can inspire daydreaming, and planning, and reflection.

What happens when GPS does it all for us? We don't know yet. Maybe we won't have to worry about useless facts or be overwhelmed by choices. It could be liberating. Worst case, death by GPS. The truth is probably somewhere in between.

While I'm not inclined to get rid of GPS, I wonder if we can design in more of the missing context. What if we could rethink GPS to build emotional connections and cognitive landmarks? Or maybe if the self-driving car of the future comes with a bookshelf, there is still a place for a map, too.

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