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Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Death by GPS...

I came across this article.

The salient point is "It seems the GPS system pointed them on to an old road that ends in the reservoir, and that in the dark they were unable to brake in time, with the car taking just a couple of minutes to sink," the Red Cross said in a statement.

I think the discussion here about print and its future are, in reality being, driven by this type of technology issue.  For example, here, they show how students are so tied up with computers the mere thought of working without them is troubling.

In the olden days of paper maps you would never drive off the cliff into a reservoir because you we naturally be cautious on roads you were unfamiliar with - driving slowly, as they say, to match the conditions.

I don't think the issue is so much technology replacing things like maps with computerized gizmos like a GPS.  Instead I believe that the problem is people become overly dependent on the infallibility of these devices.  This is kind of strange when you think about it because phrases like "blue screen of death" and "crash" have entered our culture as examples of exactly the opposite.  No one I know, and I've been in the business for decades, thinks computing machines or their programming are infallible, or even particularly reliable.

(Why people believe this is best summed up by Arther C. Clark's third law which states: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."  After, what fun is life without a little magic...  Just ask those poor folks driving in Spain.)

Personally I think in today's culture the law should be updated to read: "Any sufficiently advanced technology enables debilitating stupidity and laziness."

The old saying "its the craftsman, not the tool" also applies.   Except there are no craftsman left to speak of who understand technology in the proper context, which is "its a tool to help you do your job, not to do your job for you."

Tools like paper maps were never considered infallible because there was always understood to be a lag between the time the map was made and the time you might need to use it.  In addition, a map always provides context - which is what you see around the point you are interested in (like the big blue lake at the end of the road).  Most GPS systems I have seen don't do that - they provide this kind of instantaneous point of view context which travels along with your car and only looks out the front.  The lifetime of this context is probably a few seconds at highway speed - so if you miss the exit you have to rely on the GPS telling you how to turn around and get to the right place.  I am not sure what it says if you drive off a cliff...

On the other hand, the context of map is generally years by comparison - except in locations where new highways or major changes are occurring - you can generally rely on their correctness.

(Personally I like to plan any trip on Google first - using satellite and mapping - then transfer the destination(s) to my iPhone which I consult while I am driving.  That way I always have the full context of where I am going mentally available and I only need to rely on the iPhone GPS software for low-level details.)

Right now print becomes less and less relevant because the context it addresses is very long - as with the maps.  Print needs to find a better place where what it provides in terms of context is relevant and not so easily replaced.  Things like manufacturing, for example, are not as easily replaced as maps, at least for now...

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