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Is Waze Ruining Your Sense of Direction?

GPS might save time on the road, but is it producing better drivers?
IMAGE Esquire UK
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For every gentleman who finds himself at a meeting twenty minutes early, there’s a lost sap with no inkling of where he is, and how he’s supposed to get from A to B by careening through narrow alleys and steep residential drives. Meanwhile, people look at this fellow and wonder what a car is even doing in their area. 

Waze has reached an urgent demand in Metro Manila, where one wrong turn can cost you a frustrating hour on the road. The popular navigation app has worked miracles for long and complicated journeys. However, recent studies show that having an entire trip planned out for you can also inhibit natural sense of direction. 

The bad news, as Boston Globe points out, is that people who rely too heavily on GPS devices could be losing their internal map of the city. In an experiment where test subjects were brought together to complete a set of four routes, half of them were told step-by-step instructions on how to get there while the other half were forced to use traditional maps. All drivers reached the destination. But when asked to draw a map of their route, those who only followed instructions barely remembered their physical surroundings. 

"If all you know is, 'I have to turn left at the church, then right at McDonald's,' then you can reproduce the route, but you are not able to very flexibly navigate from Point A to Point B," remarks Julia Frankenstein, a psychologist at the University of Freiburg in Germany. "That means you can never deviate from the route you know, look for shortcuts, or improvise if the situation calls for it."

Crowdsourcing real-time information from other citizens can mitigate your daily drive by finding alternative paths, but it can also lead you to streets that aren't accustomed to any traffic at all, often for a reason. When this happens, drivers who fail to exercise their internal navigation skills or take stock of the landmarks around them are more likely to get lost the next time they head out.

So the next time that computer-generated voice tells you—no, orders you—to take a left, look.

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Tiff Conde
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