Jul 012013
 

Ok, so we’re cyborgs now. This means that we will start to notice performance differences among us which are based on purchased augmentations.

If you have one of the latest smartphones, you not only don’t need to remember telephone numbers, you don’t need to plan anything in advance. The phone knows where you are. It knows the places you go to often and it will let you know how to get there by various means and how long that will take. If you want to visit someplace you haven’t been to before, no need to look up the address at home and write it on a scrap of paper, because your phone will be able to look up the address for you, as well as providing transportation guidance.

You don’t need to know your city’s streets and neighborhoods, your transportation system, or distances, because your phone will provide step-by-step instructions  by voice or print for getting from here to there with whatever transport options you have at your disposal. Your phone knows about one-way streets, traffic, and train delays. If you make a mistake it will automatically re-route you.

What this means is that navigation, estimation, and knowledge of place are now obsolete skills. I used to be admired by my friends for my “location services”, sense of direction, map-reading skills, ability to estimate travel time, and delivery of “route guidance” to the driver. Now no one needs this assistance from a friend anymore because they have a robot.

When I argue that I enjoyed doing these things, it’s seen as odd. Why bother with such trivia? There are more interesting things to think about. I wonder what these are exactly. Where are we going, so conveniently? What is waiting for us in that decontextualized place?

That’s the stupid part. Here’s the sad part.

I loved my maps. I wrote on them. I sheltered them from the rain. They’re covered with scotch tape, white-out, stars, hearts, and sparkly stickers. My maps were the most precious things in my suitcase. You can always go shopping for clothes, but you can’t buy a copy of your personal treasure map to the shops and bakeries you’ve hunted and collected over the years.

I’ve tried to love googlemaps by transferring all my favorite places to private online maps, uploading custom icons, and updating the maps when places closed. But my attempts to view my personal map on a phone were frustrated, so I always had to transfer data back and forth to a paper map, which enabled me to learn the city. Now I can load the personal map onto a phone, but only one of us can look at it at a time. I can’t draw on it. I miss my sweet, sentimental maps.

It’s not that I’m anti-tech. I used to get up at 5am to gleefully data-enter all the local garage sales into an early desktop GIS system. I’d color code them, print the map, and then optimize my route through them. I had a record of the day’s discoveries and I learned the city’s streets this way. Before smartphones, I used googlemaps to look up routes, and I’d draw my own version of the map sitting in front of the computer, or I’d memorize. I’d even take photos of googlemaps with my phone camera. And like my photos of food, these photos in my archive remind me of journeys and adventures.

I’m sad because there’s no reason to save anything anymore, to make anything, to know anything. There’s no need for googlemaps when you can so easily look everything up. There’s no need to make a secret treasure map, to go looking, to think about a route, to make a story. This degrades our intelligence and our experience. I’ve always crossed town for an amazing meal, but the journey was delicious too.