Digital maps have completely changed the way we view our world. They have become an essential part of our day to day life. The era of using paper maps to find our way through an unknown environment is long gone and replaced by GPS systems and mapping applications. We don’t require any prior knowledge of directions or routes to go from place to place. While digital maps have made our lives easier and efficient in many ways, we should not be completely dependent on this facet of technology as it disconnects us from reality and can be dangerous.
People’s need to know where they are at all times is what has made this technology successful. It has removed the hassle of opening a big piece of paper and trying to find the small point on the paper where we stand. It has also removed the problem of forgetting your map at home as we don’t need to carry anything extra, only our smart phones which we always have handy. They are used by Tufts University on its mobile application where I can track when the Joey comes and directions to specific places on campus which may not be available on other applications. Unlike traditional maps, these maps are active and evolving and enable us to find the best possible way to reach our destination. This blue dot on the screen tells us everything we need to know about where we are and where we can go.
This technology proved beneficial to me when I first came to college. Coming to a different country and city was overwhelming. I didn’t know any routes or landmarks. In addition, I didn’t understand miles as I have always been told distance in kilometers before. Especially on the Tufts campus, I didn’t know where any of my classes were. So wherever I needed to go, I simply put in the location on my google maps application and blindly followed it. I wasn’t anxious about reaching the right destination as I trusted the internet. This app helped me find my way around college and removed the fear of getting lost in an unknown city from my mind. I didn’t have to worry about making a wrong turn as it redirected the route even if I did. It removed the uncertainty of whether I’ll reach the destination on time or not as it told me the exact time it’ll take to reach a place. I could time myself to the very last minute. It also made me independent as I didn’t have to rely on anyone to get places especially because there isn’t someone always around, willing or even being able to help.
However, while it made my life easier, I became completely dependent on this application. I even opened it to go to places I knew the route to as it reassured me I wasn’t going the wrong way. I focused so much on my phone screen that I didn’t look around and ever familiarize myself with my surroundings. Then one day, my phone ran out of battery right before I had to go to class and started panicking because I had no idea where to go. I didn’t have enough time to charge my phone so I wasn’t sure how I’ll make it to class. Even though I thought I was completely lost without my phone, I managed to find my way to class by asking people around me and it was better than I expected. In these ten short minutes, I saw more of my college than I had in the whole previous month and interacted with many new people. I felt more connected with my surroundings.
Another way in which digital maps is central in my life is Uber. As an international student, I don’t have a car in this city. Thus, to travel long distances, applications like Uber and Lyft come in use. These applications use this technology to send the cab to the exact location where I am standing. This eliminated the need for me to spend time waving my hand on the road trying to find an empty taxi. I can track exactly how long my Uber driver will reach in. The drivers also use digital maps to find the best route to our destination because they you know when there’s an obstruction on the road, when the roads are closed or when there’s traffic.
However, once the Uber driver told me that he’s not following the route depicted on his phone. Instead, he said that he was taking a shortcut because he took in account the events happening in Boston that day to determine that the route showing online wasn’t the best way to reach my destination. This is when I realised that I shouldn’t trust the internet as blindly as I used to earlier. He showed me another reason we shouldn’t be completely dependent on digital maps, which is that it can’t always predict human behavior. Due to these applications, people have stopped following their instincts and rely completely on the direction of the internet. But a computer will never be as smart and complex as the human brain. It doesn’t have the ability to think spontaneously and make decisions. Above all, it can’t pick up the shortcuts and tricks that people learn over their entire life.
Digital maps are also integrated in many more smaller aspects of my life which I’m not directly aware of. Applications use this technology to tell us the nearest places to eat food, find entertainment, and events around us by using our live location. I use the application UberEATS to order food to my college dorm. On this application, I’m told the exact time it’ll take for the food to be delivered as the application uses this technology to predict the routes. On Facebook, I get notifications when there are events near me and I’m able to go for the ones I’m interested in. These maps are also used by applications which are different in different places. For example, after moving to college from India, my app store, Netflix, Amazon account all changed to the United States version. This made it easier for me as they aligned with the country I was actually in. However, I did not put in my location in any of these platforms, yet they automatically changed. This implied that my location was available to them without my knowledge, which is a violation of my privacy.
While the benefits of this technology are many, my experience taught me to be cautious with its use. I could find my way around campus, but lost touch with reality. I neglected my environment and could only appreciate it when I didn’t have access to my phone. I became independent of other people, but completely dependent on my phone to find my way. Uber made life more secure, but caused people to ignore their instincts. The driver ultimately proved we should trust our gut more since technology isn’t always accurate. Most importantly, while I could find many things around me, I gave up my privacy without realizing.
The issue of privacy even extends further, as social media companies and the government as they can always pin point where we are. Google maps is so invasive that people can zoom in on the google satellite and see exactly the layout of a person’s house as well as its inside which can very convenient for criminals. Anyone can hack these applications and know our location instantly. Teenagers, including myself, put their location on apps like snapchat and Instagram every time we post something as it is a social trend to do so. However, this also means that they can be stalked and followed without their knowledge as anyone can determine where we are without putting any effort into it, which can be potentially dangerous.
Science provides us another reason for caution. It has been proven that excessive use of GPS systems can have an effect on the brain. Many people believe that it frees up space in our brain to retain other information, but research shows that it actually causes forgetfulness. As mentioned on the GIS website, a study at McGill university found that people who used GPS had a lot had degeneration in their brains since it reduced their thinking abilities and memory. They further said that this degeneration can make people vulnerable to cognitive diseases like Alzheimer’s later in life. In addition, they inferred that since digital mapping has reduced the need for our brain to develop the skill of navigation, the development of other skills related to this basic skill are adversely impacted as well. These other skills, such as observation and spatial abilities, are essential and applied in almost every context, including decision making. This shows us how complete dependence can hamper our brain development.
At the end of the day, while there are many negatives associated with the use of digital maps, they have become an integral part of all our lives. The benefits of digital maps, therefore, outweigh the downsides. They have repeatedly proven to be very useful in our lives and their rise is inevitable. As technology is ever evolving, in the future the unfavorable side of this technology can be eliminated. There can be a better connection between the physical and the virtual world. Therefore, rather than completely eliminating them from our lives, they should instead be used with care. A person shouldn’t always trust what it says and be aware of the consequences while making their location public. Overusing it should be avoided at all costs and should only be used to help a person when they’re stuck or anxious. This technology can be very successful if it is used a guide rather than permanent solution.