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By: Dr. Stacey Naito – Physician and IFBB Pro
Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) navigation has become one of modern society’s necessary evils, making printed maps such as Thomas Guides pretty worthless these days. People with a poor sense of direction consider GPS to be a godsend, but even people like me with strong directional skills have been grateful for GPS navigation. As a matter of fact, I can no longer imagine having a car without navigation built into it (thankfully, many car manufacturers are making this feature standard in some car models), and when I travel, I make good use of the navigation application on my smartphone.
However, GPS navigation threatens our ability to mentally map our surroundings, enough to make us quite blind to our surroundings. Basically, by getting comfortable with the convenience of GPS, we have become drones as we follow the directions on the screen, and the virtual roads become more imprinted in our memories than the actual terrain on which we have traveled. This means that we never fully experience the mental mapping that usually occurs when we are fully aware of our surroundings. In addition, if we make a wrong turn, GPS systems simply recalculate, so we never learn to re-map, and instead just follow the adjusted prompts.
According to neuroscientist Veronique Bohbot, not only does the convenience of GPS decrease one’s ability to adjust or improvise an alternate route, it results in a decrease in gray matter in the seat of spatial learning known as the hippocampus. Accordingly, people who practice mental mapping on a daily basis, like taxi drivers, have more gray matter in the hippocampus than those who are not regularly engaged in mental mapping.
The virtual world which a satellite navigation system relies on also robs us of the richness of experience which comes with pausing to notice our surroundings. We should pay more attention to the real world in front of us instead of allowing technology to turn us into idiots.
Go ahead and use GPS, but try to remain aware of your surroundings as you travel around. Your brain will benefit.