Is GPS Rotting Our Brains?

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Nicholas Carr, author of the 2008 Atlantic cover story Is Google Making Us Stupid and upcoming book The Shallows: What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brains, takes to the pages of the Washington Post to discuss the impact of our Web-centric culture on the mind. This time, Carr alludes to the bizarre spat between an injured pedestrian and Google Maps to advance his thesis: Google Maps, GPS, and other geolocation programs are "bad for our brains."

"Internet mapping services and GPS navigation systems are extraordinarily useful," concedes Carr. "They guide us to distant and out-of-the-way places that were once a hassle to find. They quickly get us back on course when we take a wrong turn." But Carr raises some long-term problems with over-reliance on GPS:

GPS units have also been implicated in thousands of accidents. Last month, a New Jersey driver, dutifully following GPS commands, made an illegal left turn and caused a four-car pileup. Too often when we turn on our navigation systems, we turn off our common sense and stop paying attention to where we're headed. More ominously still, there are signs that our growing reliance on automated GPS directions could end up altering the circuitry in our brains. ...

All of us who rely heavily on computer maps and GPS devices are exercising our innate navigational skills less frequently and less intensively. As a result, those skills are probably decaying. And if our kids rely on computer maps from a young age, they may never establish those skills in the first place. When we upgraded from atlases to gizmos, we made our lives easier. But we lost something, too.

Are tools like Google Maps and GPS eroding our mental faculties?

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.