It has been a few years since I took a lengthy road trip, enough that this is my first one undertaken with GPS to tell me where to go. In the past I made do, somehow, with a road atlas and enough patience to get lost on occasion without worrying too much.

GPS is one of those things that makes life so much easier that we don't even notice (or mind) that it's making us dumber. Don't get me wrong, I would never recommend against using it. I am curious, though, to see what would happen if you handed a teenager who has never lived without "navigation" a map. Or hell, try the same with an adult who has been taking orders from the disembodied voice of gentle authority for more than a decade now. Cue the mental image of Michael Scott driving a car into a lake because the GPS voice told him to keep going. Is that the route (SWIDT?) we're headed?

In Nicholas Carr's The Glass Cage (recommended, if a bit dry) he talks about GPS as an example of how automation makes our lives better but imposes a strange sense of detachment on our actions in many cases. This week I am putting his claims to the test, and he's not wrong.
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Without having to worry about where I'm going the amount of involvement in the process of driving falls sharply. It's great – I reach my destinations and I can devote my attention to things (audiobooks) other than finding the correct route. But at the end of the day, it's remarkable how little I can recall: what highways I drove on, what towns I passed through, and so on. Without even trying I've tapped into the Autopilot mode, paying only enough attention to hear the voice tell me to turn right in 1/4 mile.

It's tempting to engage the Who Cares argument here; paper maps are archaic. Why bother learning a skill that cheap, widely available technology can do faster and better. I'm not about to start a Hipster Luddite No Navigation Movement that encourages people to revert to street maps (and, on longer trips, a sextant) to find their way. It is just one of the more interesting examples of the mixed blessing of labor-saving technology. Finding our way is one less thing for us to think about now, for better and worse.

52 thoughts on “NPF: I DROVE. THE CAR. INTO A F*^#ING LAKE”

  • Leading Edge Boomer says:

    GPS navigation is fine for getting from A to B, but useless for touring. A real big-ass paper atlas (at least 2 pages for each state, plus insets for cities) allows the passenger (or the driver, over lunch) to peruse what is a little ways off the prescribed path that is likely to be a delightful stopover or delay. No way else could one find Lucas, Kansas, home of the concrete "Garden of Eden" (a 19th century fantasy) and the "Grassroots Arts Center" (great outsider art from untrained Kansas folks).

  • I don't use navigation systems, personally. I have to deal with GPS systems at work, including some very fancy differential GPS systems that can give your position to within three inches or so. And there are situations (heavy overcast, trees, tall buildings, deep valleys) where too many satellites are blocked. And then you are pretty much 100% screwed if you don't have some backup. I remember hearing a cautionary tale about four hikers on Mt. Rainier who were out with a handheld GPS when a storm blew in. Then the batteries in the GPS croaked. One hiker survived, because he sat down and waited for the storm to clear. The others wandered into crevasses.

  • One thing I've noticed, as an inveterate map user, is that people used to "the gentle voice of authority" don't have an overall mental map of their route. So they have no error-trapping when the GPS gives them idiotic directions. Which the things do fairly often. I've stopped counting the people I've come across up Shit Alley without a clue who ask me for directions because I'm the only pedestrian in the city of Los Angeles.

  • Don't get me started on what the car did to the old feeling of distance when you had to, actually, walk or ride one day to get to the nearest pub. Technology has the same effect, detaching us from "the real thing" into a world of its own making.

  • It does inhibit you developing that mental map, but I value it highly anyway. Driving in general and especially possibly getting lost causes me mild anxiety, and if I have a GPS, no anxiety. So I call it a win.

  • GPS is one of those technologies, like speech recognition, that I keep waiting to arrive. My area is poorly mapped, so there are all sorts of "highways" that are actually foot trails, disused rail lines, developer's fantasies and so on. Then there are the roads that do exist and that I use fairly often that don't show up on the GPS maps. Worse, the position finding ability of the GPS in my iPhone is fairly poor. When there aren't a lot of WiFi networks and cell towers and marginal network connectivity, it can take 20 minutes to get a useful fix. I'll often have the GPS think I am in the middle of Discovery Bay with a 20 mile radius of error showing on the map. Hint: I'm in a car, not a boat.

    The other problem with GPS is the one you've noted. It can be used as an excuse not to know where you are. I rarely bother with paper maps. Instead, I'll use Apple or Google Maps and try out a few routes, a few alternates, and explore the great multi-resolution imagery. Then, when I'm out driving I know what to expect and when. Even better, I know what to do when some road is blocked or I change my mind about where I am going.

  • Last year I drove 15 miles in the wrong direction, thanks to GPS with wrong data… am embarrassed to admit it took me that long to remember that the scenery was familiar.
    "Hmmmm … didn't I drive this road coming into town last night? Shouldn't I be heading north, not south?"

  • Don't feel bad, dear; you're driving. You're not going to notice as much as if you were a passenger.

  • I'm a former software engineer who used to decorate his office with maps. I've given people GPS units as presents, but when I go somewhere I look it up on Google and jot down notes, and somehow it seems to work. At a wedding last fall I got directly to the destination while my brother, leaving earlier from my house and using a smart phone, got lost and arrived hours later. (He was probably stoned and isn't the world's best navigator anyway, and his wife was driving.) My big sister concluded from this that I need a smart phone. She's like that.

    When I was younger I did a fair amount of hiking through the Sierra Nevada using USGS topographical maps. I always carried a compass, but never used it, since the landforms were so extreme that the maps were sufficient. More recently I've toured the historic centers of European cities and found maps lighter and thriftier than a battery-operated device.

    Of course, consulting a map or a guidebook marks you out as a tourist, while consulting a phone does not. A few weeks ago I was in Maui with my nieces and nephews, and they actually found my map helpful, but I had to ask them to use their phones to identify the wildlife. Maybe there's an upgrade in my future.

  • US leaving the UK says:

    The reason that i continue to use paper maps while motorcycling is the opportunity to talk to other people.

    When I stop to unfold, rotate, re-fold a map, I often get people asking what I'm doing, where I'm going, etc… Often I pick up a tip on a local pretty road. If however i were just looking down at a phone, why bother asking me anything as I might as well be updating my Instagram or FB or some other waste of time activity.

  • Navigation devices are awesome when you are in an unknown, large city for the first time, and especially if you don't have a buddy in the passenger seat who can read the map and help look for directions.

    What I find odd and perhaps even a bit concerning are the people who seem incapable of doing without their navi while they drive around somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Areas where you don't even need a map: After an hour of driving through the bush there is a town, there are two other roads going off into different parts of the bush, and one of them says "to Perth" and the other says "to Geraldton". Anybody who switches on a navi to deal with that kind of situation demonstrates that they shouldn't be trusted with a car in the first place.

  • I'd been flying "glass" cockpits for years when I checked out in the right seat of our 727s, which still had "steam gauges".

    It was a bit of an adjustment to relearn how to navigate by VOR and NDB. No GPS or even an inertial unit for navigation.

  • Anonymouse says:

    I agree with Quixote completely. I've also been a passenger in a car with GPS and witnessed some incredible navigation fails, like directing a turn onto what was obviously someone's driveway (the house was 20 yards up in front of us) instead of a highway, and on one memorable occasion, ordering the driver to turn directly into a historic building.

    I have a good friend who has been dependent on her GPS for probably a decade, and she's now completely and utterly useless at just knowing where she is on the planet. Not long ago she came to my house for an event–a place she's been coming to for nearly 20 years–and she had us all howling with laughter because the GPS died and she couldn't figure out how to get there. She literally couldn't wrap her head around, "take exit X off the highway, go 3 miles and turn right at the big church, go another half-mile and turn left at the T-intersection, make your first right and turn into my driveway on the left." She kept calling and calling, "I"m at the church–now what??!?! I'm at the t-intersection–which way do I go?" Without a computerized voice telling her what to do, she was panicking.

  • Emerson Dameron says:

    I lived in Los Angeles long enough before I used GPS to have my own preferred routes, which GPS always seems to disagree with. I still love taking Fountain to piss it off and beat its schedule.

  • I take a hybrid belt-and-suspenders approach: look it up on google maps, take notes, plug the address into my nav app, see if the route looks like it's correct.

    Above all, I don't turn the nav on until I'm reaching unknown territory. My spouse turns it on in the driveway, and we have to listen to the damn thing navigate us through our own neighborhood.

  • For me, the primary benefit of GPS lies in not having to look for street signs, and when I'm driving a new route through a city I don't know very well, that makes me a lot more comfortable. I'll focus on watching the traffic and let the tiny computer tell me when my turn is coming up. I know it's a cliche, but I become a more cautious driver with each passing year.

  • Mr. Wonderful says:

    I have a truly terrible sense of direction. Once I left an office building to drive home and, *on the perfectly plain grid of North Hollywood/Van Nuys in L.A.,* took an unconsidered turn and felt at sea. Then I saw the sun, and thought, "Okay, that's west." And I was right! And I was saved! I got oriented and made it home without further incident. Okay, that was before I had Waze (which has saved me in complicated Beverly Hills), but I was–and am–absurdly proud of unleashing my inner Daniel Boone.

  • c u n d gulag says:

    You put a scare into me!

    I thought you'd actually driven your rental into a lake.

    I've never used GPS, so this Luddite doesn't have a clue as to what the benefits and the drawbacks are – but, I'll take your word for them.

    I use Yahoo Maps, but sometimes they're not accurate either. So I used to keep a McNally road atlas in the car with me when I lived in NC, and had to drive around a three state area for my job – and 4 or 5 times a year, drive 10-12 hour to and from Upstate NY, so that I could visit my family and friends.

  • Assistant Professor says:

    Kaleberg, I think that you might live in the same region of Central Georgia that I do. First week I was here, I kept trying to find places by means of Google Maps and kept ending up on random deserted county roads, in front of trailers, etc.

    (But then it turned out that my own region was much better mapped by Bing…)

  • As far as folks loosing the ability to read maps, many folks did not have that ability before GPS.

    Before GPS:When one applied for FEMA money after a disaster, you had to locate your house on a map so an agent could come find the place. My wife worked in a temporary office in Charlotte area after a hurricane, and the majority of people could not locate their own home on a map.

  • DocAmazing says:

    I have had some hair-raising experiences with paper-map reading motorists almost running me over while I was bicycling. I'm a great fan of paper maps and atlases, as long as drivers pull over and stop before reading.

  • GPS is very good at telling you your latitude and longitude. Telling you whether to turn left or right at the next intersection is dependent on some company (or crowdsource) that has mapped your lat/lon onto their database. Don't blame GPS. Blame the sh*tty database. Back when GPS units were backpack sized you would also carry topos and put an x on the map based on the lat/lon that the GPS gave you.

    Perhaps a related point: Atlas companies used to add "errors" to their maps so that they could tell when competitors were just reproducing their maps rather than collecting their own data. One wonders if some of those errors snuck into the commercial DBs that are being loaded into nav units.

  • Solo driver says:

    I seldom drive, and when I do, it's usually alone. The best thing about GPS is that it's like having the guy next to you say, "OK, you need to get into the right-hand lane now". Having had that, just that, over the years, would have prevented me going over a couple of bridges and having to go 20 miles just to turn around and get another shot at a highway exit.

  • You can tell if someone lives in the suburbs: they drive a huge car and don't know how to park it.

    Any criticism of "new" ways to do things always starts with the "old" way at its highest point of development. The "new" way is always too slow, too fast or too much trouble until it becomes the "old" way.

  • I don't generally use GPS for travel. I also use google maps and jot down a couple of notes and then drive. I find the voice breaking into my music very irritating. I also think it gives far too much information. I know I'm supposed to stay on I55 and I can very well read the sign that I need to be in the left lane to stay on I55. Now shut up. Your mileage might vary.

    That's not to say I never use them. During Oktoberfest in Munich two years ago I found myself more than a little inebriated and no clue how to find my hotel. The cell phone bill the next month was not small but I always found my bed. And when I visited Atlanta 20 years ago I wish to hell I'd had it.

  • anotherbozo says:

    I can't imagine anyone putting compete trust in GPS. In only one trip, it tried to screw me up 15 different ways. I wanted the parkway (more scenic) and it tried to send me off to the Interstate at every opportunity. This meant nagging me every five minutes. It tried to put me on an expressway, then off it, for 3-minutes' duration. I wanted me to make a U-turn on the George Washington Bridge (not even possible), then when I'd defied it, it tried sending me to Pennsylvania (I wanted Fort Lee, NJ).

    GPS needs work. Maybe in 15 years they'll have the bugs out. Meanwhile, Ed, good luck. Disengagement is the least of its effects.

  • sheila in nc says:

    What Quixote and others said about the mental map. My husband and I have diametrically opposed mental approaches to getting somewhere. He is fine with just being given "turn here, turn there" and no idea of what else is around him. I MUST have spatial context. When I am forced to use GPS to get somewhere, I'm driving along with a consistent low-level sense of anxiety stemming from the fact that I'm unable to orient myself in a wider universe.

  • Because my wife is a process server* and I am acutely underemployed, I read to her while she drives to some location we have never been before at least once a week.
    Because we are a bit retrograde as well as being, as millionaires go, of the temporarily embarrassed variety, we have never had a vehicle with GPS (only in the last few years have we been forced to endure the inconvenience of a car which lacks wind wings).
    We typically looks our destination up on one or more mapping sites and sketch out a little map. Interestingly, I find it a lot easier to write down directions ("L @ Polk St., R @ 5th Avenue"), and tend to get lost trying to follow a map. My ideal system when driving by myself is to consult a printed map periodically and fling the car in the general direction of Point B, but that distresses her too much for me to make her watch when I'm driving her somewhere.
    I'm not sure how we will adjust to the novelty of GPS, although we are grateful to the rest of you for doing the field testing for us.

    Okay, this is John's wife now. My first experience with a GPS was when my boss was training me for the job I now have. She had me ride along with her on a bunch of deliveries in my own city. It was, well, very very funny. The voice would have us drive along a street and then turn around and drive back to the correct turn. It would try to route us the wrong way on one-way streets. It tried to have us drive through the local college campus where there was no street at all.

    Later, when she was upgrading to a new unit, she offered me her old one. I said no thanks.

    What I depend on is several different mapping programs and sketch maps for anything I'm unsure about. Although I will say that the maps can be very wrong also. Sometimes (though rarely) all of them are wrong. And there was a while several months ago when the mapping programs would show a map with the red line (for the driver to follow) would make inexplicable loops and back-tracks. I usually pay the red line no attention, but when I noticed these odd instructions, I looked at the printed directions, which read: " Go two miles south on Blossom Road, make a U-turn and drive north to Baker Street; turn right…" Channeling my boss' GPS maybe? I don't blame the technology; I blame the database, but y' can't have one without the other.

    Back to you, John.

    *I like to call her a "herebote," after a word which an index of thedirections and sure enough, they said things like "two miles down route 9 to Blossom Rd, make a U-turn and go back to intersection with Bak OED assures us was never more than a figment of some lexicographer's imagination.

  • Freecookies says:

    I dunno. They both have their advantages and disadvantages.

    I've done long cross continent trips in a car using both. With a paper map, you're limited in the roads you take, mainly to the big ones. Too risky to try navigating on secondary roads. That can be somewhat inefficient. But taking the hypotenuse is just too risky, because you don't know.

    With a GPS system, you can to some degree take some of those perfectly good secondary roads to make a more direct path to your destination. Save on time and fuel.

    But if you think that you're paranoid about relying on computers, try talking to pilots. They don't trust the things at all. A computer is great at taking task load off you, but you have to watch them like a hawk, because they can screw up in very spectacular ways.

    Even up in space where you pretty much have no choice but to rely on them for basic maneuvering and navigation, that paranoia still creeps in. Triple redundancy. Second guessing on earth with a team of people watching everything and calculating along with you.

  • Mr. Wonderful says:

    BTW, I do recommend Waze, a smart phone app that collects real time info (from its zillions of networked users) to update you on the fly about accidents, cops, hazards, etc. You can get a decent estimate of how long it will take to get from A to B if you enter your destination before you leave. And it's free. Obviously you shouldn't send them input if you're the sole occupant/driver, but if you have a passenger they can monitor a lot.

  • Yeah, I am a Luddite when it comes to maps vs. GPS. Give me a paper map and I am a happy camper. I do write out my route after I have planned it and kind of memorize it.

    And, Freecookies, there are all manner of paper maps out there. Some are crappy, like GPS, and have limited routes shown on them. Some are outstanding, like Michelin maps, and show every teeny tiny route that is possible to take. Just depends on the map…

  • I use GPS with the sound turned off—can't stand the nagging voices. It functions as a map mounted on the dashboard, with my location actively displayed on the map.

    I usually drive alone and paper maps, while great, are not useful while en route. GPS is. I always have a full complement of maps with me in the car when going on road trips; I plan my drive out ahead of time on the paper maps, and use the GPS to help me navigate while driving, particularly through unfamiliar cities.

  • Hah, I thought I was the only one who had noticed this. I can say for sure that GPS makes cab drivers dumber. (Yes, I take cabs occasionally if I have to get home late at night – I'm a female-bodied person.)

  • I used to get the Thomas Guide every year for my birthday. When online maps and GPS started creeping in, I shed a tear for the inevitable demise of those awesomely detailed map-novels.

    On the upside, my love of studying maps gives me a very good sense of direction; I seldom use GPS for directions.

    As for my phone, I sometimes use its GPS for maps, but I usually use it to play "Ingress". (Enlightened 'til the death of me!)

  • I keep my phone running Google Maps in a little clamp suction-cupped to the lower left of my windshield. While it is a GPS, I am also seeing all the roads and towns as I go through them. I feel completely connected to the route!

    Where I think a connected GPS is truly invaluable is when you live in an area with not-always-predictable traffic. I even keep my phone in GPS mode while traveling routes I have driven a hundred times–because at any point I can get re-routed and not only miss the horrible traffic jam, but save 20-30 minutes at the same time. I drive a standard, so traffic jams just totally suck.

  • In 2003 I actually drove from Chicago to Richmond VA without either. OK it ain't as impressive as it sounds: ( I65, cross the big river turn left at I64)

  • As for automation making us dumber, I somewhat agree with GPS and wholeheartedly agree with spelling auto-correction.

  • I have a cousin who went to a wedding in the Fairfax, Virginia area. GPS caused him to be late to the ceremony.

    GPS led him to his hotel just fine. Then he followed the directions for "wedding," and drove for an hour. He thought he was going farther and farther away from the destination, so he stopped to check what was going on.

    The GPS was leading him towards Johnstown, Pennsylvania – where he had attended a wedding the previous month. He had forgotten to change the destination for "wedding."

  • I honestly don't remember how I navigated prior to GPS, which I neither own nor use. However, I navigated Boston destinations upon my arrival from less than accurate directions provided by a contact via phone (a pay phone) and somehow got to a restaurant I was looking for on Newbury St. Then navigated to a house in Brookline where I was to lodge. That was nothing given all the driving done in Northern Europe, Central America, Canada and everywhere in the continental USA excepting the Dakotas and Texas with only a road atlas to guide. Also used to locate eateries along the way by nose, so to speak ha ha. Fortunately I possess a good internal GPS. Also orient myself to cardinal directions wherever I am. Not to say I haven't been lost in some scary neighborhoods here and there usually late at night. Not that this contributes anything to this discussion. I'm just messing around. Guess I'm saying, one can get around round round without the tech assist.

  • So I was just in Maui with my nieces and nephews, and one morning I pointed out the shadows of trees and described how one navigates by the sun. Some of them struggled with the idea.

    Noon came, and the sun was directly overhead. Fortunately I had a big hat.

  • I travel for work, a lot. About 7 years ago, before GPS was as ubiquitous as it currently is (before it was available on practically everyone's phone, tablet or built into the car itself) I took a trip for work to DC and decided not to pay the extra $20/day on the rental for the GPS unit. It was inconvenient for sure, but it was fun!

    During the evenings (since it was summer), I'd go for long drives in the country. I got lost on back roads numerous times and there were close calls what with almost running out of gas, but it was one of the more memorable adventures I've had. I enjoyed having to look at an actual paper map or stopping at gas stations to ask for directions. Don't get me wrong, I love having a GPS in my pocket and being able to find my way anywhere with very little effort, but there's a lot to be said for being able to truly get "lost" that I think we miss in our hyper-connected society. With a GPS you don't have to talk to strangers to find your destination 50 miles away, but the trade off is to miss what might be happening 50 feet away from you.

    "Turn left".

  • Davis X. Machina says:

    Back when GPS units were backpack sized you would also carry topos and put an x on the map based on the lat/lon that the GPS gave you.

    Still the best way. Treat it like a tiny, and very accurate, sextant.

    On the water there are plenty stories of people who were so intent on looking at the chart plotter display in the wheelhouse that they're run right over people, and things, smack-ass in their way.

  • HoosierPoli says:

    The GPS is for my wife, who is constitutionally incapable of understanding where she is in three dimensions, even in a city she's lived in for years. After the n-teenth panicked phone call asking me to help her find her way home, I bought the GPS. "Press this button, follow the directions, and EVENTUALLY you'll get home". I say nothing about larger stereotypes, just that these are the facts in this case.

    I generally prefer to look at google maps to plan my route beforehand, then use the GPS as a heads-up local map rather than as a directions-giving device. It serves its purpose, which is to avoid getting utterly lost, and more importantly, to remind me to take the exit when I'm in the middle of a heated, half-hour long political or philosophical discussion with another occupant of the car. That's my particular navigational Achilles heel.

  • I used to routinely drive cross country (and twice through the hinterlands of Canada to Alaska and back) using just paper maps and my wits.

    F that.

    GPS (or more accurately, Waze) is far and above better and more accurate, and actually lets me enjoy the drive through the desert or mountains without the constant paranoia that I'm driving 1000 miles in the wrong direction and I might run out of gas and die or be forced to live with a wolf pack. Combine it with something like Hotel Tonight and I don't even have to worry about where I'm going to sleep when I stop for the night.

    You've brought up this point before, that we're losing our ability to read a map because of GPS and turn by turn directions. I counter that with: my map is better than yours, it's more accurate, and it's easier to read. If you manage to get lost using GPS, well, I can't say I have much faith in your ability to not get lost with a paper map, either.

    Either way, when the apocalypse comes and the aliens jam our satellites, learning to read a paper map takes all of 5 minutes, and most of those are trying to figure out what kind of drugs the cartographer was on when they picked those fonts and colors.

  • >>If you manage to get lost using GPS, well, I can't say I have much faith in your ability to not get lost with a paper map, either. >>

    A paper map has never directed me to make a left turn off a bridge in the middle of the crossing. I've been in a car with GPS that did just that. A paper map has never directed me to turn onto a dead-end street; another GPS unit in another rental car did just that. Then there's the time I was a passenger in a car whose GPS directed the driver onto a road that was still being built.

    OTOH, I rented a car on a tourist trip to Ireland and did just fine with a paper map. Even better, as was pointed out by others above, when people saw me eating my lunch in a cafe and checking the paper map, they'd come up to me and give me suggestions of things to go see in the area, which really enhanced the trip.

  • My Irish uncle once mocked me regarding city streets being laid out in grids. (He must have been thinking of NYC). But Streets and Avenues make it damn near impossible to get lost. I then mocked the Irish for not being able to count past 100, since they just rename each street every few miles.

  • Bitter Scribe says:

    For someone with absolutely no sense of direction, like me, GPS is a godsend.

    The only problem with my GPS is, it gets bumfuzzled by tall buildings, which makes it useless on the (mercifully few) occasions when I have to drive downtown.

  • I plug in the GPS system only when I'm on a business trip and need to get from the meeting site to the airport as fast as possible, or am in one of those suburban hellholes trying to find my way out.

    My husband, on the other hand, would drive as if hypnotized into that lake if the GPS fellow told him to. He was always extraordinarily directionally impaired, so my daughter and I got him a system just as soon as they appeared on the market. He was delighted—said it changed his life. It certainly changed our daughter's, as she no longer had to dread his driving her someplace and getting more and more irritable the more and more lost he became. Mine too, because the frantic calls asking for help getting him from point A to point B also stopped.

    I wouldn't have thought he could get any worse than he already was, but he has. I blame his utter dependence on the GPS for eroding what little navigational ability he had. If he's driving anywhere except to, say, the local grocery store, he insists on plugging it in and turning it on. Why the hell a route with three turns, on major highways he's driven for 30 years, would requite a disembodied voice to guide him, is beyond me. It's as if he's developed some type of anxiety disorder that only the GPS can quell.

  • There are three actiities that I am very thankful to have learned before the age of computers: SCUBA Diving, Sailing and Amateur Radio.

    I got certified as a SCUBA dier at age 12. It was the mid-80's and diving was still a macho sport. The training was long and kind of brutal. The only instructors that were available were former military or commercial divers and they made it abundantly clear that if you fucked with the laws of Physics, you were going to die.

    We used watches and dive tables and an understanding of the effects of pressure on the body and available air supply meant, quite simply, the difference between life and death. Oer 1,000 dives later, I am still alive and thankful that I understood just what was behind those mysterious dive tables.

    I bought my first beat-up 70's sailboat when I was 19. I had a desire to sail but no one to teach me or the money to afford instruction. I went to the library and read eery book I could find. I talked to old salts on the dock and eventuallly, through much trial and error, learned to navigate costally and with a sextant. When GPS became affordable, I jumped at the chance to have it but I still maintain the knowledge of sighting off three landmarks to determine position and taking a noon sight when out of sight of land. I can still relibly put myself within 20 miles of where the GPS tells me I am and that's good enough to cross oceans still.

    Nerdiest of all of these pursuits was HAM radio. I started this when I was 10 years old. The study of radio theory coupled with py parents not really underatanding ort supporting my efforts led me to build my own transmitter. It was only three watts and would only transmit CW (Morse Code) but I managed to reach another nerd in Australia with it.

    Increased computational power has made superhumans out of regular people. In depth knowledge is losing its edge and fewer and fewer people will value it as the next App solves complex problems and places the solution in the hands of anytone with an average IQ.

    My concern is that this individual power is undermining the real benefits of truly understanding how a system works. If all it takes is downloading an app to your phone, why would you ever learn how to read a map? If your dive computer figures out eerything for you, why would you need to understand what Boyle's Law is? And just what happens when the last people who truly understand these things die off and stop explaining to people who have long since given a shit about details while being entranced by their latest shiny download?

    Google can give anyone the answers to the test question but it will never be a substitute for ground up learning and true comprehension.

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