Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Monkey And The GPS

If you could Google (which, of course you can, but likely have no inclination to do so) GPS on my blog, you would quickly become acquainted with my views on GPS usage. I won't reiterate my position here (well, maybe I will briefly), except to say that a GPS is far less necessary in the outdoors than you believe it to be. If you know how to read a map, read terrain, use handrails, checkstops, backstops and a compass, 98% of the time travel through the outdoors is easy without a GPS regardless of prevailing conditions. 

I staunchly believe that if you learned to recreate outdoors using a GPS you have never learnt properly how to navigate, and, unless you put the GPS down, you never will. I also believe that over-reliance on technology is making us stupid. The difficulty lies in proving these things, which, are much like proving the existence of a superior being (and I mean some kind of god, not a dog. Dogs, as anyone who has owned one knows, are superior beings whose existence is not in doubt.) It's really impossible, at least in a practical sense to prove these things, although lots of studies have actually shown that people who rely on GPS's have poor spatial and navigational sense. GPS aficionados, however, will always argue that these studies (primarily done in urban environments) don't apply to them. 

High in the Kokanee Range using a map to identify local peaks

On the type of bulletin boards that seem to attract the less experienced, people argue endlessly and passionately about GPS units, almost always dividing into two very unequal camps. The people who learnt to navigate without GPS technology (who are almost universally older) and the people who have never learnt to navigate at all but believe, by dint of having a GPS grafted to their hand, that they can navigate. You don't have to be young to be in the latter camp, you just have to be “young” in your outdoor career. Amazingly, some people have even done “studies” comparing GPS accuracy to Smartphone GPS accuracy as if this is some kind of metric that is actually meaningful. Perhaps if you are planning to launch an unmanned drone attack on an unsuspecting camper in the next valley north (or south) this might have some utility, but, if you are within 30 metres of accuracy in the outdoors and you can't work out what to do, you have bigger problems than the precision of your Smartphone GPS. 

Of course, the problem with all this is that the Dunning Kruger effect prohibits the people who can't navigate without their GPS from recognizing their own incompetence. They are, in effect, locked in an endless treadmill much like the carbohydrate addicted mice who, even when released into the outdoors didn't run away from a sugary food source to freedom. 

Using a GPS allows these folks to point quite accurately at a map (usually on their device of choice) and make confident assertions about their location (unless these folks are also certifiably moronic they will always be right), and (if they have loaded someone else's route into their GPS before leaving home, which they have invariably done) how far they have left to travel to reach their destination. This confidence impresses not only their gullible, but equally inept traveling partners but reinforces their own belief in their ability. Much like the monkeys of Borneo who prefer to hang on to the banana and be captured rather losing the banana and running free, the GPS addicts can never know the freedom of traveling new routes until they open their hand and let go of the GPS.

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