GPS and GIS Technology Changing the Culture of Navigation
Time, technology and user needs are constantly changing
the way we do things, often making them easier and less expensive. When
technology becomes affordable, individuals and industries are motivated
to use it. When two great technologies are combined, a new innovation
is created. Such is the case with GPS and GIS. On their own, GPS and
GIS are fabulous inventions, but when combined, they provide results
that neither of the products can deliver alone. As has been the case
with many inventions, the resultant technology forever changes the way
we do things.
What was once a simple navigational aid is now a personal, interactive
mapping and directional device. Portable Navigation Devices
(PNDs) used in automobiles are one of the most popular 'gadgets"
available today, with thousands of street maps and related points of
interest packaged with the hardware. This rich mapping resource
provides drivers with customized routes. Drivers turn when they're told
to do so, and arrive at their destination within the estimated time
specified. Many drivers take advantage of the ability to calculate the
shortest route. They try to avoid dense traffic and slower roads.
In an age where everyone is trying to beat the clock, a PND reflects
our needs and values. We seem to no longer have patience for, or
acceptance of, delays, distractions and unanticipated circumstances. We
do not appreciate inconvenient surprises such as road detours,
expensive gas stations or closed coffee shops. We now rely on
technology to not only speed up our processes but to reduce our own
efforts. We no longer need to exercise our minds and memories recalling
landmarks and street names. We're missing the changing leaves of trees,
the older century stone homes on the side of the road and the farm
animals in the open fields, as we have no need to look anywhere but
straight ahead of us. We won't be conversing in the car as freely, or
singing out loud with the radio, because we'll be waiting for the next
turn direction from our PND.
How will the young driver of today be affected by this rather novel way
of getting from point A to point B? Will she have folded road maps in
her glove compartment? Will he have any concept of direction - east and
west - and will he make note of where streets bend, end or change
names? They may not know where streets intersect and may not have any
spatial concept of where they are. Unlike today's adults, they may have
difficulty communicating directions to one another. If they were left
on foot to walk or cycle to their destination, would they arrive
With PNDs now available on most new car models, they are becoming
regularly used commodities. However, most drivers take the same route
driving to work and back each day and most likely wouldn't need to
utilize their PND. Perhaps some drivers will use it when on vacation.
Adventurers traveling to new places could certainly use a little bit of
navigational assistance as well as digital maps of their driving route.
Although a PND provides convenience, calculates routes and offers the
security of knowing that you are headed in the right direction, it is
not only rendering paper maps obsolete, it is changing the culture of
Folding and unfolding paper maps, following the route with your finger
and making decisions on alternative routes are all part of travel! In a
hurry, you may opt for the expressway; otherwise you may choose to take
the scenic route. If you've lost your sense of direction, stop by
a service station and talk to a local. A vacation is often about
adventure, being spontaneous and seeing things you weren't expecting or
planning. It's these little unplanned experiences that create memories.
You can stop at visitor centers, pick up local maps and plan your day
in a coffee shop. Bring your map with you and take a walk around the
town - walk through wooded forests and dense areas that your PND
couldn't find - and get lost a little bit. Use trail markers to find
your way back; use the sun to give you a sense of direction and time of
day. A vacation is a time to have time. You're in no hurry and you
certainly don't need to be told by an electronic device what your
quickest route will be, when your next service stop will be and which
hotel you'll be staying at that night.
Until recently, everyone owned a map. In fact, most people owned maps
that were torn in two and were over a decade old. They didn't seem to
mind the vintage as it still got them to their destination. Is
the PND just novel technology or is it really a replacement of the
paper map? Will GPS technology change traditional travel and our
concept of spatial awareness? If you take the PND away from a
driver, will he be lost?
Published Sunday, February 3rd, 2008