SatNav – a microstudy in digitisation


<Image Mapa antiguo de America del Sur – thejourney1972>

We have only recently got a SatNav system for the car (it's invaluable if you are towing a caravan, no matter how small and trendy, as doing 3-point turns is not easy, or popular). Using it has made me reflect on how the process of digitisation and connectivity changes behaviour and our relation to certain artefacts. I think what is true of SatNav and maps, is probably true across all forms of content.

Here are the changes as I see them:

  1. The need for a particular skill (in this case map reading) which was previously thought essential becames largely irrelevant.
  2. This democratises the behaviour for use by nearly all member of society (navigation).
  3. The skill becomes highly specialised then, and possibly as a result, highly valued when it is needed.
  4. We gain in functionality because the community can create content – we have map mashups, numerous filters placed on maps, regular updates, recommended routes, new voices (Darth Vader "You have reached the dark side), etc.
  5. The presence of the tool begins to alter behaviour. A small example, but when driving in France over the summer, we were more likely to explore because we could put in a destination, or a place of interest and not have to be concerned how we would get back to our original destination – the SatNav will do that for us. It has also removed the need to shout at each other while wrestling with a map.
  6. We lose some of the richness and affection that is attached to a physical artefact, particularly with a history, in this case, maps – these are a thing of romantic wonder. Authors will not write of SatNav systems:

"when I was a little chap I had a passion for maps. I would look for
hours at South America, or Africa, or Australia, and lose myself in all
the glories of exploration. At that time there were many blank spaces
on the earth, and when I saw one that looked particularly inviting on a
map (but they all look that) I would put my  finger on it and say, 'When I grow up I will go there.'"

One Comment

  • Phil Greaney

    We might not hold the same kind of affection for sat navs as we do for maps; but if you’re right about No 4, then we might get more opportunities to explore the new places we discover, unhampered by our navigational skills (or otherwise!)
    I, for one, feel – since perhaps it’s yet to happen to me in earnest – completely confident that the things I hold dear, right now, will be swept away and considered obsolete – and perhaps sooner than think. And I welcome it. Anything else is wistful thinking (b’dum-tsh)
    It’s these kinds of interrogations that I like to think about – what’s the web doing to us, the broader picture. Thanks for the post.

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