GPS Has Made Society Dumber

gps-brain-fryThe evolution of man(woman)-kind has regressed as technology continues progress. Specific individuals determination to progress society’s convenience  factor will ultimately dwarf future generations ability to process and complete simple tasks. My generation is a perfect case and point: Calculators have made my generation basic math degenerates. While incredibly convenient, they have made younger generations lazy. GPS systems, society’s latest and greatest convenient enhancement, stands to make future generations directionally and street sense challenged.

Boy Genius to Calculator Junkie

In kindergarten, I was on the path to becoming a boy genius with my natural curiosity and abilities in mathematics. While my classmates were busy learning how to count I was adding and subtracting. While my classmates were busy learning how to add and subtract I was learning how to do fractions. I spent a few sessions with the TAG (Talented and Gifted) group because of my innate mathematics ability. I thrived on being the smartest kid in class and having all the cute girls come to me with their math questions. MIT seemed like a done deal, until the fourth grade, when the infamous school supply list included a calculator. This was ultimately the death of my MIT dreams.

Instead of listening to my mother, and only using the calculator to ‘check‘ my work, I quickly learned that it could ‘do’ my work, leaving me with exponentially more time to play. I figured, ‘What the hell? I’m already head and shoulders ahead of everyone else in my class. It’s not  like I’m going to forget how to do this stuff.‘ The fifth grade came and it was multiplication tables time. I’d been doing these for about a year so no trouble at all right? Think again. In just a year’s time I’d already slumped back to the middle of the pack. I wasn’t the ‘smart kid‘ anymore I was just part of the group who actually knew basic math. My calculator habits increased as the complexity of the math problems increased.

In Middle School, it was recommended we upgrade our calculator to the TI-81. We had a set of these in the classroom that we routinely used and they were everything a little boy or girl could dream of. They were the closest thing to a palm computer to date. Now instead of spending math class actually learning math we were learning how to program the calculator to ‘check‘ our math. Again, the recommendation was made that we use the calculator as a tool not as a crutch otherwise we wouldn’t retain the knowledge we were being taught. My favorite button was the faction button where you could type in 2/3 + 1/8 and magically get the answer. I wasn’t great at adding, subtracting, multiplying, or dividing fractions so this button single handedly kept me at a grade A average in math class.

I need my fix man, Give me that Calculator!

I maintained a high enough level of math comprehension in middle school that I was able to test into either Algebra II or enter into the IMP (Interactive Math Program). I’ll have to save my thoughts on IMP for another rant, but I blame it  for my regression in math skills. For three years everything I did was with, and encouraged, a calculator. I decided to take the IMP track because, as a Freshman, it was the only way I’d be able to take Calculus in High School. Which if you follow my train of thought from the second grade, cute girls ask smart guys math questions, it’s pretty easy to see why I needed to be in Calculus.

I wasn’t aware of my basic math skills deterioration until I was in my senior year of High School taking Calculus. It hit me like a ton of bricks when I went shopping at the mall with my mother and they had a 33% off sale. If we timed my response time in the third grade vs. twelfth grade you would have found about a ten minute difference. It was pathetic and neither my mother nor I could figure out what was wrong with me. Thankfully I obtained college credit from my high school Calculus class, because when I did my college entry examines they placed me in the Math 110 level. I had college credit from the Math 251 and 252 level so things just didn’t make any sense. I talked to the chair of the mathematics department and it was finally clear as day: I had a better understanding of fundamental mathematic concepts in Elementary School than I did entering college.

In my best Jamie Foxx impression of the song ‘Blame It‘, I blame it on the calculator. In an effort to help future generations, I’m here to give a general warning to all kids and parents that the GPS system will be the calculator of my generation if you’re not careful.

Tom Tom go away and don’t come back another day

I have personally used a GPS system and agree that they are potential lifesavers. The turn-by-turn directional capabilities are remarkable. Having the ability to tell you how to travel from one location to the other using a few satellites and microchip just floors me.  The other part that floors me is how stupid people are to not process what the system is telling you and instead drive 400 miles off course, have your semitrailer stuck under a bridge, drive directly into a river, or actually be stupid enough to drive off a cliff. Isolated cases? I think not. Who knew the question, “If someone told you to jump off a bridge would you, ” could be answered emphatically: YES!

The counter argument stands that the individuals involved in these or other incidents are just plain dumb to begin with. I’d counter that they are sufferers of gadgetly induced convenience syndrome with side effects including: the inability to function limbs or brain independently, the inability to give tourists directional help, resembling the appearance of a vegetable, and uncontrollable drooling. Dependence has the same definition regardless of if its being used to describe a drug addict, computer nerd, or normal husband and wife.

The same thing your doctors tell you, ‘if you don’t exercise and use your body you will lose flexibility, tone, and muscle mass,’ can be said for your brain. I’m a believer that Alzheimer’s and Dementia occur because of poor brain stimulation. This is a direct correlation to becoming complacent, relying on, or settling on the use of anything other than your brain. I’m hear to say that the more popular and frequently used GPS systems become, the higher the % Alzheimer’s and Dementia sufferers there will be.

Let our eyes be the filter to our journey

Inventions, patents, and shortcuts were all created from the experience and knowledge of someone else. If you master the use of these shortcuts or devices it’s not translating the knowledge of the creator to you. Instead, you must travel a similar learning path to obtain a similar knowledge base. It’s the same reason why degree programs have a specific set of classes you must take before you’re considered knowledgeable in the field. If you rely on the directions or work of others, specifically your GPS system, you’ll never know what to do during an adverse situation. What if there’s traffic? What if the road is flooded out? What if you’ll be late if you take the route recommended and simply driving faster isn’t an option? Relying exclusively on a GPS system is a calculated risk that your hoping never comes to fruition. It’s the same risk you take by not having car insurance, health insurance, or financial savings. Every time you walk out the door you’re putting your health, safety, and trust in a little device controlled by objects in the sky.

Time will always be the #1 excuse used, ‘I just don’t have the time to BLANK,’ for why can or cannot do something. I’m here to lobby that keeping future generations directionally savvy is a trait worth investing time in. Being directionally savvy requires critical thinking, information retention, and mathematics all of which are life necessities. Without directionally savvy generations we’ll be forced back to relying on computers. It’s comparable to Christopher Columbus relying on a map for his journey to America (we all know how successful that was). Break away from the technological crutch and become independent. I have a feeling that cute girls, and guys, like directionally savvy people too.

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