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Is GPS All in Our Heads?
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eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F
Is GPS All in Our Heads? on 02/05/2012 22:38:29 MST Print View

more at link ...

IT’S a question that probably every driver with a Garmin navigation device on her dashboard has asked herself at least once: What did we ever do before GPS? How did people find their way around, especially in places they’d never been before?

Like most questions asked in our tech-dependent era, these underestimate the power of the human mind. It is surprisingly good at developing “mental maps” of an area, a skill new research shows can grow stronger with use. The question is, with disuse — say, by relying on a GPS device — can we lose the skill, too?


If maps help us, what is the problem with GPS? A lot: in my opinion, it is likely that the more we rely on technology to find our way, the less we build up our cognitive maps. Unlike a city map, a GPS device normally provides bare-bones route information, without the spatial context of the whole area. We see the way from A to Z, but we don’t see the landmarks along the way. Developing a cognitive map from this reduced information is a bit like trying to get an entire musical piece from a few notes.

a b
GPS on the brain on 02/05/2012 23:13:25 MST Print View

This brings to mind something funny that happens at my work.
Most of our guys are in their 20's and have never used a Thomas guide map book before.
They rely on the company GPS units or their Android phones.
If those electronic devices don't recognize the adress my co-workers freak out.
I mean they won't even begin driving towards the general direction of the city the job is in until they get the electronic box's (GPS) permission.
They think I am some far out old man when I pull out the Thomas map guide and thumb through the index.
Interestingly, even when i show them the job location on the paper map they still wait until they get the GPS unit to issue step by step directions.
Or they call the customer to get a cross street and then enter that into the GPS.
My favorite GPS "wild goose chase" occurs when the Android phone they are using begins hunting between wireless networks.
Suddenly the job is behind us.. nope now it's ahead of us.. nope IT MOVED AGAIN!
Or the day the GPS kept sending us left, and left, and left again until we came full circle.
It is tough being a cranky old map and compass guy around the GPS generation.
It is also pretty dang hilarious!

Tipi Walter
(TipiWalter) - F
Dump GPS on 02/06/2012 06:49:38 MST Print View

Dump the gps doodad and take a map. And once you know the area, well, you can even dump the map. I love to see guys tabulating numbers on the trail and consulting their handhelds and drooling over waypoints and all other such nonsense. While you're at it, deep six the SPOTS and PLB's and all the rest.

And please, don't write up a trail guide to an area and include GPS numbers. It's a totally useless endeavor. Write about water sources or a seven day blizzard or pole bending mountaintop winds or even Notes on How To Birth A Mountain Turtlehead, but please leave the gizmos behind. Do us all a favor.

drowning in spam
(leaftye) - F

Locale: SoCal
Re: Is GPS All in Our Heads? on 02/06/2012 07:13:58 MST Print View

The spacial context problem should mostly go away as the pixel density of screens increase. The small screens are already incapable of displaying the amount of information in the same area shown on a paper map. Big screens are even worse since they don't show anything more, but are much bigger.

Buck Nelson
(Colter) - MLife

Locale: Alaska
What's best is both the navigational skills and the GPS on 02/06/2012 07:43:30 MST Print View

I consider myself fairly proficient with a map and compass. That said, the GPS is an awesome tool and there's a reason that they are so popular.

To me, the ideal balance is to have a GPS when navigation is challenging, but having the skills to fall back on map and compass in the event of GPS failure.

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: What's best is both the navigational skills and the GPS on 02/06/2012 08:17:16 MST Print View

Bruce has it right - there is nothing "evil" about GPS if it used as a tool. Sure, I can read maps and whatnot but I enjoy a GPS as well. Oddly enough I use my GPS more for figuring out mileage when hiking than for direction.
I have an integrated GPS in my newest vehicle, if I am driving my husband's truck we have a car unit or we can use our phones if we want. If I have somewhere to go I map it online first and then knowing the route, I go use my GPS in the van.

I don't exactly miss using a massive paper map/book of maps when driving.....

Erik Basil

Locale: Atzlan
Thomas Guide? Wut? on 02/06/2012 09:54:14 MST Print View

I love that we haven't had to update/purchase a new Thomas Guide in several years, because the data in our Nav units is accurate. I also love that some of you folks apparently still have them and I will admit there's one behind the seat in our Jeep.

However, having a 6x9 inch screen in my dash that gives me map data is just outstanding. Even the little Garmin is pretty darn good. It has "favorites" that include every In-n-Out Burger joint, and every "Triple D" restaurant.

In my case, this only goes to automobile nav. Our Garmin GPS unit is out of order and I like maps.

Edited by EBasil on 02/06/2012 09:55:55 MST.

ed hyatt
(edhyatt) - MLife

Locale: The North
GPS on 02/06/2012 10:09:35 MST Print View

I'm in the 'like GPS a lot' camp; and use it for 99% of my 'using things other than my senses' navigation.

My GPS is a simple Garmin with an arrow. I'll use it a few times a day perhaps to get a rough idea of direction (or in foul conditions, location). The rest of the time I rely on 'natural navigation' - using my eyes and experience to gauge the topography and project where 'the route' should be.

My map and compass stay on my pack. GPS is faster for on the fly nav for me.

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: Thomas Guide? Wut? on 02/06/2012 11:35:54 MST Print View

Hehheh...mine in the van is set to recognize any Starbucks that I might be near. And as well ANY latte hut :-D Yum!!

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: Dump GPS on 02/06/2012 12:18:52 MST Print View

The article was more about road travel. But I agree with Walter.

Seems to me, if you are backpacking and carrying a map as a backup, you might as well leave the GPS at home. This is BPL, which emphasizes multi-use, not redundant systems.

However... Maps and compasses are technology, same as GPS. So there is nothing wrong with using technology. I think the article is more about how we are becoming so specialized in our lives, we are loosing the ability to function independent of the technology.

Now regarding traveling on roads and in cities. I travel a lot to distant cities and need to drive many places once I arrive. I map my routes ahead of time using MapQuest. This gives me a good feel for where I am going, they lay of the land, and road systems. I study them ahead of time. Sometimes I bring a Garmin with me, because it is not safe to be reading a map when driving. But I know where I am going ahead of time.

Even when driving in So Cal in unfamiliar areas to a trail-head, meeting or event I print out the MapQuest maps first even though I have a navigation system in my vehicle. Sometimes the Nav system routes a goofy and longer route, which I catch right away because I know where I need to go from a high level perspective.

Now when in a city and on the spur of the moment I want to stop somewhere unplanned, the iPhone is great to grab the address and I punch it into the Nav. Much better to listen to the lady in the dash giving turn-by-turn directions than trying to look at a GPS screen. And I always carry state maps in the vehicle.

David Roach
(DRoach) - F

Locale: North America
Driving vs Hiking on 02/06/2012 15:57:39 MST Print View

When I'm driving I love my Droid for it's GPS. It's a tool. Sometimes it doesn't work. 99% of the time it does. But, if I'm out hiking? Map and compass all the way. The electronics can stay in the car or at home.


Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: Driving vs Hiking on 02/06/2012 19:06:25 MST Print View

Ugh. Please, please for the love of whatever do NOT leave electronic toys in your car at the trailhead (GPS, phones, etc). It only encourages criminals to bust into cars!!!!!

Look, if one is against GPS they shouldn't be carrying a phone, a camera or even a watch then, eh? Or worse, a lousy altimeter!

ed hyatt
(edhyatt) - MLife

Locale: The North
GPS on 02/07/2012 00:09:41 MST Print View

It is BPL...but I don't see what else can replace something that tells you where you are to 5m in a Scottish blizzard or the mists that cloak this fair land all too frequently.

I guess in SoCal you can always discern the nearest Starbucks through the heat haze so nav is never an issue :-)

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: GPS on 02/07/2012 19:53:02 MST Print View

The GPS in the car is fun to use when you don't know all the freeways to take to get somewhere. But I don't know how to use a hiking GPS. A lot of the time, I have to find my way by looking for signs of trail that look like this.
hidden trail
In other words, to find the trail means looking for areas where the weeds are a different color or a different species. There are many ways to find your way.

Harald Hope

Locale: East Bay
gps + sustainable earth frienddly? I don't think so on 02/09/2012 09:52:11 MST Print View

gps systems require a global satellite system to function, used to use the military one but I believe they are putting up civilian stuff now due to the popularity, ie, many more rocket launches. There is nothing earth friendly about satellites, the launches are incredibly toxic, the orbits decay, and require replacing the systems at routine and in terms of human history, almost absurdly short intervals, every step of the process just takes us further away from nature, which to me is the precise opposite of why I go backpacking. Sort of the same idea as not being able to listen to the sounds of nature and needing further stimulation via music player of some type.

However, convenience always trumps any larger considerations in today's consumer society, so there's not much point debating the matter from what I can see. John Muir must be rolling over in his grave nowadays, I feel for his spirit. Backpackers used to care, some deeply, about such questions, but I guess those times are fading now, very sad.

A compass is a piece of metal that points to our north pole, period, with some fancy refinements if you want.

An altimeter is a similarly simple device. Comparing the complexity levels of these different methods is a no brainer, a compass is a simple device, requires almost no support infrastructure to produce, but requires some skill to use well.

I'm not so addicted to cell phone usage that I consider it a necessary item, it sits sort of half way between a basic compass and a gps in terms of the infrastructure required for it to be more useful than a fancy small paperweight, but, like the GPS, is totally and utterly non-sustainable, the peak of human throw-away culture and wastefulness. Happily, looking long term, all such non-sustainable systems must, by definition, be unsustainable, and will fade away, leaving behind a damaged earth and ecosystem, but also leaving simpler tools, not requiring globally complex systems to maintain, that have withstood the test of time, like a compass.

Edited by hhope on 02/09/2012 10:01:26 MST.

Diplomatic Mike

Locale: Under a bush in Scotland
Compass on 02/09/2012 10:01:56 MST Print View

"A compass is a piece of metal that points to our north pole, period, with some fancy refinements if you want."
It actually points to the magnetic pole. ;)

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: gps + sustainable earth frienddly? I don't think so on 02/09/2012 10:49:36 MST Print View


I agree whole heartily.

I try to separate myself from the technology when hiking. No GPS, no cell phone, no MP3, and often no camera. But I do use a light, a compass, topo maps, synthetic fabrics, plastics, metals, etc. So we cannot get away from it. Also our technology driven society is more and more making people very specialized in itty bitty fields. So it is natural for people to gravitate to the technology. Plus many do not have the free time to go out often or for long periods of time, and the technology becomes more and more a reliance piece of the adventure. I don't think that is a good thing, and others think it is wonderful. And we are both right.

I posted in another thread about Shamans who traveled from northern Utah to the edge of the eastern Sierras for religious purposes. Today it would be the rare person who could undertake that kind of trip with no reliance on technology or society.

The most important thing is for people to go out and be safe, and for many a GPS is the only way they can do it. Others use a hybrid kit, and others only map and compass. On most of my trips I don't even need a compass, a map is sufficient... and that is technology too. So although I have been vocal about my distaste for GPS, I am not right; there is no right. And I have used GPS a little bit, it does have its place in backpacking. I guess it all comes down to HYOH. We all get a bit "religious" about what we think is best, I am one of the worst offenders, but in the end it doesn't matter. What works for each person is the best way to go. We cannot get rid of technology, technology is both good and bad. Much is not sustainable, but mother earth will eventually take everything back. Species come and go, and only mother earth goes on.

Thomas Glennon
(Eagletrek007) - MLife
It's All Good on 02/09/2012 11:12:43 MST Print View

While I'm new to the community, I'm fairly well versed and practiced in land navigation. The OP is quite correct about folks becoming so focused on their GPSr that they loose focus of their surroundings but that doesn't mean that GPS is a bad thing. It's like anything we own; it's all about how we use it.

When out and about, I carry a map, compass and GPSr. Of the three, the map is most referenced, the compass ocassionally and the GPSr is there to be used when required. Terrain association is my primary navigation skill and the compass is only needed when I can't determine a cardinal direction via other means or when I want to determine a location through resection or intersection. The GPSr is there only to bail me out when everything else goes to hell (especially the weather) and I need a quick fix on my location.

There's nothing wrong with blending the old and new. OBTW, I know this is BPL and I noticed previous posts that reminded me of that. That said, what is the lbs/oz thresshold that has to be crossed before I enter the realm of BPM??? :0)

Trek On

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: gps + sustainable earth frienddly? I don't think so on 02/09/2012 15:04:05 MST Print View

" gps systems require a global satellite system to function, used to use the military one but I believe they are putting up civilian stuff now due to the popularity, ie, many more rocket launches. "


Navstar satellites are designed for the military and funded by DoD.


drowning in spam
(leaftye) - F

Locale: SoCal
Re: Re: gps + sustainable earth frienddly? I don't think so on 02/09/2012 15:45:21 MST Print View

Isn't the european gps system commercial/civilian?

Edit: I looked it up. It's also a government system.

Edited by leaftye on 02/09/2012 15:49:19 MST.