A survey shows that the use of portable navigation devices can lead to a lower perception of our environment, which means that smartphones they actually lose our orientation. However, this is not bad.
Using GPS and other navigation tools, we usually focus less on memorizing site names for a deeper understanding of the site.
Many of us have been in an unknown city and had to go to a specific destination - be it check in to a hotel, meet a friend in a shop or go to a meeting in time.
With a few clicks on the smartphone, the destination is inserted into a navigation application, with customized suggested routes to avoid traffic, tolls and in certain cities, even slopes! Stress is diminishing and we are heading to our destination through voice prompts or taking a quick look at the map.
But once we get safely, it comes to the realization that we do not even know how we got there! We can not recall points that would help us find our way without our device, we certainly could not go back to where we came from. This raises the biggest question: Does our online navigators influence our ability to navigate?
Research shows that yes. However, given the ubiquitous presence of these devices, we may have to learn to accept them.
Geographers, psychologists, anthropologists and neurologists are all studying how individuals can be heading from point A to point B. In one research of 1975, psychologists Alexander Siegel and Sheldon White, argued that people are oriented through the points they recognize in a larger landscape. New routes are discovered by linking well-known points with new ones.
For example, the Inuit race, facing snow-capped, topographical, uniform landscapes, takes care of details such as the shape of the snow and the direction of the wind. Until the emergence of GPS devices, these cultures did not have a cultural understanding of what it means to lose your orientation.
Research has found that navigation devices, such as the built-in GPS on the smartphone, reduce our orientation capability. These interfaces make users less space-oriented than when using only physical or static maps. Navigation devices have been associated with lower spatial knowledge, poorer orientation skills and reduced environmental sensitization.
People are less likely to remember a route when using a GPS. Without their device they need more time to find a route, travel slower and make bigger mistakes in the direction.
While native navigation maps and static maps require contact with the natural environment, guided navigation allows unblocking.
However, this does not mean that device navigation is only negative. Technological developments historically have relieved people of the trouble and the difficulties.
In addition, many of our experiences are mediated through technology. Drivers use cars, hunters use guns and many of us are constantly on their smartphones. In a nutshell, as sociologist Claudio Aporta and ecologist Eric Higgs have stated, "technology has become the environment in which much of our everyday life takes place."
In his influential 1997 article, geographer Robert Downs argues that navigation-related technologies need not replace geographic thinking, but serve as an addition, complementing the awareness of the area that surrounds us.
Increased access to information gives people a new way to quickly and easily explore new landscapes - which can then lead to the natural exploration of these landscapes. Then we can concentrate less on remembering domain names, for the benefit of a deeper understanding of topography.
While research shows that the use of portable navigation devices can lead to reduced orientation, this may not necessarily be the fault of the device.
People who are most likely to use navigation are already confident that they are not well-oriented. Reusing navigation devices leads to a vicious circle, where people increasingly depend on their devices and have less contact with their environment.
In addition, for some groups, these devices are needed. Portable navigation devices can now allow greater independence for visually impaired people.