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Why Should You Stop Using GPS Navigation?

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Turn-by-turn navigation on phones and dedicated GPS devices has made traveling much easier. However, relying on GPS navigation comes at a price – you never learn how to get somewhere. It is a problem.

The Good and the Bad of GPS

My world changed when HTC Eris received an update to enable turn-by-turn navigation in Google Maps. I’ve always been hilariously bad at navigation. Even the places I’ve been to dozens of times can escape my memory. So having a GPS device in my pocket gave me a lot of confidence to travel.

The problem is that while this made it easier for me to navigate, it didn’t help me get any better at navigating. We can essentially “turn off” our internal navigation system when using GPS navigation. You don’t have to pay much attention to roads and important points while passing by. When it’s time to act, you’ll be alerted.

Recently, I’ve made a concerted effort to rely less on GPS navigation. Sometimes I’ll literally just start driving and see what happens. Other times, I first search for my destination on Google Maps to create a mental map in my head. If I get lost, I can pull out my phone to find my way. I noticed an improvement in my navigation skills, but why is that?

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Backed by Science

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The mental map I’m talking about is one of two strategies we use to navigate. This is the “spatial memory method” where you learn the position of objects to create a map of the environment in your head. The second method is the “stimulus-response strategy”, which memorizes a series of events. Turn left, drive five miles, turn right at the gas station, etc.

A study was conducted with 50 adults aged 19 to 35 years. They were all “regular drivers”, meaning they drove at least 4 days a week in Montreal, Canada. Previously there were no requirements for the use of GPS. Participants were given a series of tests that asked them to remember objects at the end of the paths.

Not surprisingly, those who used the “stimulus-response strategy” made more mistakes when cues were needed to remember paths. However, in tests where bookmarks are hidden, they did better than the “spatial memory method” folks.

Three years later, 13 of the participants were retested. Those who relied heavily on GPS since initial testing experienced a sharper decline in spatial memory. In other words, they’ve gotten worse at using landmarks as references for navigation. They weren’t using that part of their brain with GPS navigation.

Get Rid of GPS

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ShotPrime Studio/

While some people are naturally better at navigation, like most things in life – you just need to practice. GPS is like training wheels on a bicycle. They certainly make cycling easier, but you don’t need to practice balancing. When the training wheels come off, you go down.

If you never navigate without the aid of GPS, you are relying on it. The more you use it, the more you need it. That’s why it’s important to abandon GPS from time to time and navigate on your own terms. Maybe you get lost more often, but even that is a great learning experience.

Also, what happens when you are out of range of the cell signal and you fail Use GPS navigation? This is not a fun location to be in. It is important to pay attention to your surroundings even when using GPS.

Look, I get it, GPS navigation is amazing and I don’t know if I can live without it. However, I don’t want to open Google Maps for every little trip for the rest of my life. You should be able to navigate around your own city without the aid of GPS. I’m working on it and maybe you should too.

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