You Mean You Can Make a GPS Out of…Paper?

That’s right. Before there was GPS, there were maps. April 5th is National Read A Road Map Day, so it’s a good time to reflect on why we may not want to throw out our road maps altogether.DCF 1.0

Many millennials view maps as simply an archaic GPS of days gone by, but there are reasons to actually read maps – not the least of which is to preserve your own cognitive abilities. When it comes to your brain, the old “use it or lose it” adage is absolutely on point. According to a 2010 study, those who rely on GPS have less activity in the hippocampus, an area of the brain focused on memory and navigation.

Of course, one reason not to blindly follow your GPS is it could be sending you into disaster, like a lake, a sand pit or a cherry tree. Just because you’re using a GPS, doesn’t mean you have to let it drive you into a rough! While reading an outdated road map could potentially roughcause similar problems, we’re more likely to blindly follow an instructive voice – letting it drown out our own common sense – than when our brains are fully engaged in the critical thinking required to read a road map.

A GPS doesn’t eliminate human errors, yet it reduces our ability to correct them. Even if we assume the GPS has a perfect sense of direction, which it doesn’t, we as humans can still make mistakes entering the information. Imagine if you entered Parkersburg instead of Parkesburg and ended up in West Virginia! With your critical thinking skills firmly in the “off” position, you might not even notice. Don’t believe it could happen to you? Just ask the Belgian woman whose broken GPS led her on a 900 mile journey to get to a train station 38 miles from her house.

robotOnce a friend driving from Chester County to Boston added an extra 3 hours to his trip because the GPS was inadvertently set to “avoid tolls”. Had he not completely handed over the navigational duties to a computer, he might have noticed that something was amiss – that he should have been on an interstate moving much faster than he was! But our mind tends to wander while being led by the GPS, and our brains are still the best navigational tools on the planet.

And of course, there’s always the chance that your GPS malfunctions or you end up under cloud cover so heavy it blocks out GPS signals. Or there’s a zombie apocalypse. And then what? If you aren’t armed with a paper map and the knowledge of how to read it, you better hope your grandad picks up when you call him for help!


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