Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Rant on GPS

It seems to me that these days, we rely on technology and miss out on seeing the world. GPS is a great example of this. Sure, if you are in a strange town and want to find a gas station, ATM, or restaurant, turn on your GPS. It will give you a little knowledge and get you to what you are looking for. But it won't be local knowledge. You will never know about that little eatery with its great special dish. You also won't have the pleasure of a little conversation with a local who loves their town.

Now on the motorcycle, I find it hard to read a GPS when I'm riding. The screen is just too small and you can't see it well when the sun is shining bright. In the car, its easier to see, but you get such a small view of the world, either no detail when zoomed out or just a postage stamp of local countryside when you are zoomed in.

I suppose you can try to plan your route before hand and follow the directions given by the little electronic voice, but you loose the pleasure of looking to find your way, find your turn, understand something of the country. In the end, you become an automaton blindly following directions and not thinking for yourself.

Of course, if you want to go anywhere but the largest freeway route, you can't plan a trip using a GPS. Any attempt to go backroads in fettered by the dreaded "Calculating New Route". Also, you can't see enough of the world to imagine your way across the countryside. You need a map for that.

And then there is the adventure of getting lost. In this case, GPS is just too helpful.

In contrast, consider the map. Lovely, multi-color printing, perhaps with land contours suggested by shading. A broad scale of the country that lets you understand the flow of the roads and their relationship to the land.

When you deviate from the roads on the map, you have a sense that you are between this road and this other road. That you are north of the river and south of the lake. Even when you don't know where you are, you know you haven't left that zone. So you just keep going until you reach one of those boundaries. Of course, sometimes its useful to have an idea which direction you are going. That brings us to my latest addition to the motorcycle. A $3.00 compass. I think the compass and a good map will always give me more pleasure than any GPS ever could.

On the motorcycle, I still can't read the map while riding, but if I'm going to stop and plot my course, I get so much more understanding out of a map.

Maps themselves are art. Even when I'm home, I can sit and look at maps for hours. I think of them as paintings with places to go. I love the names of these strange places along the way. More than once, I've used the internet to try and discover the history behind the name of a place.

So here is to maps, especially the paper kind. Although they may be headed for extinction to be replaced by mind numbing GPS, I hope they last long enough that I will be gone before they are. And to all of you, get out there and explore. Follow your nose and bring along a map if you need it. Leave the GPS behind and use your mind.

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