How GPS is changing technology, culture and minds

April 28th, 2016

People use GPS (Global Positioning System) today to guide airplanes, ships and tractors. It keeps tabs on sex offenders and helps find oil deposits. It helps travelers going on road trips to know what exit to take on the highway, how long the traffic back-up is, or what other routes to take.


GPS devices survey land and help build bridges and tunnels. GPS knows when the earth deforms; it senses the movement of tectonic plates down to less than a millimeter. GPS can tell you how long until your Uber arrives or where to find friends nearest to your location.


In the past two decades, GPS has become one of the 21st century’s most important technologies, allowing us to overcome obstacles and achieve our goals and desired destinations.


However, there are still cultural stumbling blocks in regards to GPS. The U.S. Air Force invented this system in the early 1990s, but the use of brass resulted in a decline in their funds, since they did not see the need for another navigation tool.


Once GPS’s value became clear, the Pentagon attempted to keep the most accurate version private. The first commercial GPS companies focused on designing devices to the exacting standards of the military.


Companies such as Magellan and Garmin came to dominate the market, making billionaires of their founders by selling cheaper devices whose diminished accuracy was perfectly satisfactory for people not launching missiles.


Eventually, private sector engineers found ways around selective availability and the military’s jamming was abandoned.


Nowadays, every smartphone is a GPS device; it is equipped in the chip design, allowing us to carry around powerful computers in our pockets. It is the 24 hour GPS satellites circling the planet that make us take them out and use them.


However, Bloomberg conducted a recent study that suggests there is now a price with regards to having a tracking device constantly with us. Part of that price is the ease with which we can now be located and tracked. However, there is another cost.


Several hundred years ago, ancient navigators and sailors like Ferdinand Magellan and Christopher Columbus figured out how to cross thousands of miles of open ocean in outrigger canoes, guided only by the stars and the currents.


Today, however, people blindly follow their turn-by-turn instructions into lakes or drive miles before they realize they mistyped the name of their dinner destination.


Through studies that economists have worked on, Bloomberg reports by citing some suggestive psychological research, that our reliance on the technology may be altering the structure of our brains.


Technology over the past few decades has provided our society with extraordinary benefits that has established improvements across the board from being able to FaceTime or Skype loved ones to emailing professors, employers or family in just under a few seconds.


Although technology has its benefits, it is vital to be careful with over-utilizing them, especially for the “Me-generation” which the vast majority of teenagers, college students and young adults are currently in.