Saturday, July 25, 2009

Mapping Software

Mapping software makes life so much easier.  Ten years ago, when you wanted to get somewhere, you had to ask directions.  There would be a lengthy conversation as you worked through roads, traffic lights, landmarks, etc.  But now, all you need is the address.  You put that address into an Internet system and print off the directions, or you put it in your in-car GPS navigation unit and follow the instructions of the friendly voice.

I was reminded of this because my friends life in a new apartment complex, one that has not yet been added to any of the map databases.  They had to give me directions the old-fashioned way.  We handled this without any problem,  But I wonder how long it will be before giving directions, and following directions form a human, will be a lost art.


E said...

People give directions all the time, not just in the context of location, so I figure directional skill won't completely fade as long as spatial awareness lasts, (and some have more of that than others, anyway).

However, more than that-I see it having an impact on colloquialisms (no more "drive a ways down") and how people see space, land, and other humans. In the future, I'd expect to see more people in developed places using roads, exits, and exact miles in directions (prompted by experience with the friendly GPS), and less landmarks and relational locations.

Asking for directions sometimes 'humanized' the landscape by revealing how the inhabitants perceived and related to their own land. It forced you to go outside your auto-bubble and the interstate signs and try to see what they see. And maybe you could pick up a slice of the best banana cream pie this side of the Mississippi in the same stop (or a tip where to find it). Driving along, looking for exit N, turning ahead at 400 yards prompted by a voice speaking in universal english may give people a better sense of mileage between points, but there will certainly be something lost in interfacing with space through software instead of people.

Richard Bruns said...

I don't think that humans will start using mileage and specific road names in directions, for the simple reason that we do not know them. The reason we give directions the way we do is that we simply do not remember exactly how far it is, or what the roads are named.

In my experience, having a GPS unit makes me more likely to explore and take side trips to look at interesting things. If all you have are a static set of directions, you are afraid to leave the route that you have been told of. But with the machine, you can go exploring and know that it will be able to to get you back on the route.

E said...

I shall preface by affirming that... I love my GPS (most of the time).

I pay a lot more attention to miles, exits, and road names now with my unit, especially on routes I use more than once. Before, I just went by memory, maps, and gut feeling. I've never been too afraid to go off trail when something looked interesting, even with just a paper map. GPS is very nice for more easily finding things that are not heavily advertised though, or random holes in the wall. (How long before advertising makes its way to the GPS unit instead of the big sign in the farmer's field next to the interstate?....)

One thing- 'Taking a side trip' is not quite the same as getting a view of the route and surroundings from someone else. You are still seeing and choosing to see things from your perspective rather than a shared/transmitted experience of the area between you and someone else (the directioneer imagining the route, and you trying to see the route their way).

There is also the transmitted spatial experience/info given by the GPS, which is a compilation of all the things the software people thought would be useful- so what you see in the GPS is also what others have thought necessary for you to know (and is both much more general and more detailed than a personal account), and also affects how you experience the surroundings. From individual/independent to mass-produced spatial interaction.