Altering the Spatial Experience

While studying the relationship between digital media and spatial relations, the class looked at the concept of Geocaching as a locative game. But if we take a step back to what technology Geocaching relies on, we can really explore how technology changes our view of spatial reality. The Global Positioning System (GPS) has only become available to the general public in the twenty-first century, yet it has altered how many people interact with the space around them.

The GPS is a remediation of the map. Maps limited people to having access to grids of information. There was no one Map that could show the entire globe in detail. The GPS holds information about the entire world, and it is easily carried with you. It takes advantage of the fields that Mitchell describes in his essay “Post-Sedentary Space.”

However, with the introduction of the GPS, people became less reliant on close relations for information and began searching for information from far sources. It is very interesting to see this change. Men and women who were once able to use a simple paper road map to travel in any country from anywhere now depend on the voice of the GPS to tell them LEFT or RIGHT, so that they can mindlessly maneuver the vehicle. It is also quite funny to see how the voice in the GPS is often labelled as a personal aspect. But the voice is the same for everyone and it does not hold the same level of intimacy as being told the directions from a real person.

(This clip is a commercial that shows the lack of personalization and lack of spatial sense due to reliability on the GPS http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L9RefWuq6tE)

In class, we also discussed how wireless technology could be starting to control us rather than us controlling them, especially due to the automatization of many technological features. In terms of the GPS, a person has less control over which path he or she is going to take to their destination because the GPS will make that choice for them. Additionally, the GPS will often make the “economic” choice by guiding you to the toll routes, unless requested to do otherwise.

To conclude, the GPS shows how technology can be used to alter the space around you. It has made the familiar spaces unfamiliar and driving is no longer an activity that requires you to think and plan ahead. Like much of wireless technology, it has created a disconnect between the person and the spatial experience.

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2 Comments

  1. I agree with the disconnection between people and the spatial experience wholeheartedly. GPS devices are really changing the way we get from place to place and it’s alarming to think about the act of driving going forward. I believe the GPS is getting increasingly popular and certain models have several features to appeal to more people, including speed monitoring and as you mentioned, voices.

    People are becoming so dependent on GPS’s when they drive and that spatial experience is essentially nonexistent with the driver navigating their course with the GPS.

    I think we’ve seen the GPS evolve as well in the last few years with the inclusion of them in our phones (making cell phones even more mobile and spaces even more accessible). This remediation makes the GPS much easier to attain and use. Travel now isn’t about HOW one would get from point A to point B anymore, but rather how fast.

    Driving becomes second nature and relaxed instead of the focused and instinctive task it should be. This could have negative repercussions that go beyond the realm of digital media but it’s a risk some take when trying to become more familiar with spaces around them.

  2. I’ll argue devil’s advocate here: to a large degree, human navigation has always been mediated by technology. The flat surface map is a technology that has been refined over centuries of use, and one of the oldest tropes in comedy films has been misreading maps to comical effect. As chinyeamanda points out, our maps have always been somewhat inaccurate, as you can’t fully translate a spherical surface onto a flat map.

    Humanity has developed many different systems for navigation–star patterns, animal migrations, even the way we build cities and houses reflects systems designed to make our navigation easier. What is it about GPS that makes it radically different?

    Well, you guys have started answering that question: it’s more fully automated than our previous technologies, and thus requires less human effort. But is this a radical new thing, or is it a difference of degree?


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