The death of place memory

I was walking down an unfamiliar street the other day, but I had a pretty good sense of where I was going. Also, I could more or less keep in my head the general direction I was headed, so fairly soon I managed to get to a familiar intersection.

While this was happening I was thinking about a potential downside to wearable technology. If I had been using a mature version of a wearable, I would have had the option to see an optimal route at all times.

With the Cloud as my guide, I would have quickly learned to simply follow the directions on offer, confident that I would arrive at my destination in optimal time. I wouldn’t even need to think about it.

And that’s the problem right there. With every new technology aimed at making our lives easier, another skill becomes lost.

In this case, it would be the skill of place memory — the ability to navigate through a strange place using only one’s wits and common sense.

Who knows, maybe this is a good thing. I’m thinking of the future generations may read this, long after the skill of navigating through a strange place without computer assistance has been forgotten.

They will probably wonder what all the fuss was about.

5 thoughts on “The death of place memory”

  1. This already happens to me (and I’m sure many others) when I’m driving, thanks to Google maps navigation.

  2. I have a friend who talks about how new tech often eliminates skills. His catch phrase is, “Use it until you have to.”

  3. It’s an interesting point that some of the gradual effects of information technology are felt by drivers before they are felt by pedestrians. In a car you get to experience some things just a little sooner along the historical curve of Moore’s Law.

    On the other hand, self-driving cars are still in the experimental stage, whereas we have had self-driving pedestrians for quite a while. 🙂

  4. I’m travelling right now. It still amazes how the phone in general (and Google maps in particular) transforms the experience. Navigating train schedules and city streets is completely automatic. Finding the best restaurants and activities is a snap. Purchase a ticket in a minute online rather than wait in a huge line. The phone is often better informed than the locals are.

    I remember the days of tedious train schedules & heavy guidebooks. Handing those “skills” over to the phone makes travel more fun.

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