GPS has become as invisibly ubiquitous as oxygen, and just as vital to many of society’s functions. What happens when it breaks? The Christian Science Monitor reports on GPS’s vulnerabilities, real (jamming) and potential (attack on the satellites), and what backups might exist if and when it goes down. [Alex Chaucer]
Writing in Nature, Roger McKinlay notes the complexity, infrastructure requirements (i.e., cost) and limitations of modern navigation technology and argues that people “should make better use of our innate capabilities. Machines know where they are, not the best way to get to a destination; it might be more reliable to employ a human driver than to program an autonomous car to avert crashes. If we do not cherish them, our natural navigation abilities will deteriorate as we rely ever more on smart devices.” [via]
Earlier this month in the New York Times, Greg Milner looked at something that was a frequent subject during The Map Room’s first life: people getting themselves lost by blindly following their GPS units (or satnavs, as the British call them).
Could society’s embrace of GPS be eroding our cognitive maps? For Julia Frankenstein, a psychologist at the University of Freiburg’s Center for Cognitive Science, the danger of GPS is that “we are not forced to remember or process the information—as it is permanently ‘at hand,’ we need not think or decide for ourselves.” She has written that we “see the way from A to Z, but we don’t see the landmarks along the way.” In this sense, “developing a cognitive map from this reduced information is a bit like trying to get an entire musical piece from a few notes.” GPS abets a strip-map level of orientation with the world.
Milner is the author of the forthcoming book Pinpoint: How GPS Is Changing Technology, Culture, and Our Minds (W. W. Norton, May 2016): pre-order at Amazon or iBooks.
For another look at how GPS may be affecting our brains’ ability to navigate, see “Global Impositioning Systems,” a long read by Alex Hutchinson in the November 2009 issue of The Walrus, which I told you about in 2011.
Local Maine media is reacting to the news that Garmin is buying DeLorme, which is based in Yarmouth. Here’s coverage from the Portland Press Herald, which notes that the Maine headquarters will be maintained, but the map store will close. (Eartha will continue to be open to the public.) There is no news about the future of DeLorme’s Maine Atlas and Gazetteer, the paper-based product that started DeLorme off in 1976, which is worrying the Bangor Daily News’s outdoors editor John Holyoke.
Garmin has announced that it is buying Maine-based GPS manufacturer DeLorme. “Garmin will retain most of the associates of DeLorme and will continue operations at its existing location in Yarmouth, Maine following the completion of the acquisition. The Yarmouth facility will operate primarily as a research and development facility and will continue to develop two-way satellite communication devices and technologies. Financial terms of the purchase agreement and acquisition will not be released.” (Presumably that means that Eartha won’t be moved to Olathe.)
Scientific American on how the U.S. military used GPS during the first Gulf War in 1991—the first war in which GPS played a major role. “GPS would change warfare and soon became an indispensible asset for adventurers, athletes and commuters as well. The navigation system has become so ubiquitous, in fact, that the Pentagon has come full circle and is investing tens of millions of dollars to help the military overcome its heavy dependence on the technology.”