Recently my wife and I drove 400 miles to attend a wedding. The festivities took place in a small northern California town where neither of us had ever been. Although some planning went into the trip, navigation was never much of a concern. With Siri calling out the turns, we drove confidently into hitherto unknown regions of the Sierra Nevadas, reaching our destination with a comfortable margin. For some curious reason, she took us on a different route for the trip home, but the time and distance were more or less the same and we gave it only a passing thought.
About the only travel-related decision I made was the location of our fuel stops, and I am confident that I picked the two most expensive gas stations in the state. The fact that we were traveling in a Prius (48 mpg on low-octane gas) eased the pain somewhat. (Note to self – next time, use Gas Buddy). For most of the trip, we didn’t really know where we were or where to go next. Thanks to technology it didn’t matter. Technically, we were never lost.
As a matter of fact, it’s been quite a long time since I’ve been truly lost. Back in May 2000, President Bill Clinton directed the U.S. government to turn off selective availability and make GPS use more effective for everyone. With the possible exception of the blue dress or the definition of “is”, this may be the most memorable legacy of his Presidency.
While we guys no longer have to make excuses for not stopping to ask for directions, there are subtle bits and pieces of culture that may be lost forever. On the surface, we seem freer to look around and take in the scenery, relieved of constantly checking the map against the surrounding street signs or landmarks. In a deeper sense, we never wander off into uncharted territory, experience the delight of an unexpected find, or actually disconnect from our information-saturated lives.
We may know we are 2.2 miles from a slight right turn onto the next road, but we have no perspective on what that actually means; no concept of the big picture beyond our ETA. That cognitive region of our brains that used to make maps, store them, and gather evidence for “You Are Here” now has permission to lie about and grow flabby with neglect. Should it awaken and protest, it is quickly reprimanded by a stern voice – “Please return to the highlighted route.”
Getting lost has become a lost art.