Advisor: Why my GPS is bad for my brain

I used to never get lost in San Francisco. I was a safe driver who obeyed traffic rules. Then I got a GPS, and everything changed.

I'm a closet road geek. I love thinking about how cities are built and how roads interconnect. When the new Octavia exit to the 101 opened up, I gawked at the pure genius that was highway construction for a month before I finally shut up about it. When I first moved to Bay area, I rode the pee-stained bus up and down the veins and arteries of San Francisco with a foldable city map and learned the names of all the side streets that crossed 19th Avenue, Geary Boulevard, and Market Street. By the time I got a car two years later, I had a map of the city imprinted in my geography geek brain.

At first, the GPS (I have an old Garmin) was a novelty--a tool for experimentation. It was fun to see how long the thing thought it would take to get from point A to point B. I was just the receiving end of a network of commands relayed through the voice of a nice British lady. But then it became a habit, and weird things started happening to me.

I started to forget how to get places without it. The map in my brain became a distorted blur. And then my driving became more reckless. I invented this game where I tried to beat the estimated arrival time that the GPS gave me. Often, that entailed running yellow lights and exceeding the speed limit. Sometimes, the GPS fell off of its suction cup on the windshield and onto the floor, and I would have to fumble around with my right hand while steering the wheel and shifting gears with my left. The worst was when it couldn't locate an address or a satellite signal. I would drive around in circles bouncing between rage and confusion. Why am I relying on this dumb machine? Why is this machine that is supposed to help me get places screwing with my innate sense of direction?

Ultimately, I think the GPS just made me lazier, stupider, angrier, and a worse driver. I wish I could say I'd rather be without one, but a part of me is dependent on it. I'm a recovering GPS addict who has been clean for several weeks, but it's still sitting in my glove compartment beckoning to be used.

Advisor is a new weekly column about how to juggle technology, relationships, and common sense. Got a story to tell? Email it to mango [at] tokyomango [dot] com.

About Lisa Katayama

I'm a contributing editor here at Boing Boing. I also have a blog (TokyoMango), a book (Urawaza), and I freelance for Wired, Make, the NY Times Magazine, PRI's Studio360, etc. I'm @tokyomango on Twitter.
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