This book can be read at two scales. Narrowly, it is a history of the mapping sciences in the twentieth century that situates technologies like GPS within a longer trajectory of spatial knowledge. But more expansively, by connecting geographic knowledge to territorial politics and new ways of navigating the world, it is also a political and cultural history of geographic space itself.
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.
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.”