Can't Think, Won't Think...Tony Fyler 19 comments
One of the most depressing things about human beings is our insatiable need to be taken care of, to resign our responsibility and put our feet up and let someone else do our thinking for us. We hand the responsibility of determining our moral codes over to some deity form or other, and then don't think any more about it, so whatever the 'deity' says BECOMES our morality, irrespective of whether its mysterious ways fly in the face of our instincts. We hand our children to celibate preachers, and don't stop to think "hmm...there's a guy who's supposed to never have sex with anything...wow, wonder if he's hard up..." We elect politicians once every four years and then hand the responsibility for Everything In Our Worlds to them. Even President Obama, who continually said "We'll all have to work together to get out of this," has been subject to this idea that nono, we've done our bit in electing you. Now you fix the world...
But this isn't a religious or political rant. No, really, it isn't.
This is a rant about surrendering our brains, not to a deity or an authority figure, but to a piece of electronic equipment.
There's a woman called Lauren Rosenberg from Los Angeles. She's suing Google. Take a guess why?
She's suing Google because she tried to cross a four-lane highway in Utah on foot, and got hit by a car. Now, call me old-fashioned, but if you're going to sue anyone, I'd say sue the driver of the car that hit you, but more than that, I'd have to ask - surely if you're crossing a four-lane highway on foot, you're practically asking to be hit by cars, so where the Hell do you get off acting surprised?
She's suing Google for more than $100,000 because she was 'advised' to try and cross a four-lane highway on foot by Google Maps as part of a walking route she downloaded to her BlackBerry. And so this idiot thought 'oh, well that must be alright then...' and wandered out into traffic. Personally, I think Google should counter-sue the State of Los Angeles for the cost of her education, but the point is this: we have become very quickly accustomed to trusting the information our GPS machines give us, at the expense of actually thinking about our situation.
This is by no means a US phenomenon. We've had plenty of cases in the UK of drivers 'following' their GPS into sticky situations. My favourite to date was the guy who, when faced with a level crossing and the instruction 'take the next left,' got out of his car, lifted a gate, drove his car onto the railway lines, TURNED LEFT, and drove up the railway track for about half an hour, imobilising the 8.42 to London. That's some fairly serious mental inhibition. But nobody would have taken him seriously if he'd wanted to sue his satnav-maker, because there's a fundamental principle involved. It's called 'not being a fuckwit.' Satnavs and Google Maps are supposed to be aids to navigation - they are NOT a replacement brain. Someone should tell Ms Rosenberg what my parents always told me when I was a kid and I'd run in saying I wanted to do something stupid, and Darren down the street was doing it. "If Darren told you to stick your hand in the fire, would you do it? No? Well sit down, play nice and shut the hell up then..."
Incidentally, I'm not targeting people who are led astray down roads that look genuinely likely to lead somewhere, and then don't. Nor am I targeting the truck drivers who have nearly plunged over cliffs after following their satnavs in strange locations, because they've been led onto unsafe roads. There are genuine issues with the speed at which satnav maps are updated. But when you're driving on a railway line or walking out onto a four-lane highway, I'm sorry, but you have only yourselves to blame!
It gets worse. There's some evidence that continuing reliance on GPS actually reduces your ability to form the kind of mental connections involved in ordinary navigation, and could even, over time, lead to early dementia. This is still speculative to some degree, though some research in England into the hippocampi of London cab drivers (who have to memorise a stunning amount of navigation data before they get permission to become cabbies) has shown that once they stop using their navigation knowledge and rely instead on GPS, they lose the ability they've previously acquired. It really is like Nature saying 'use it or lose it buddy!' - and we're not using it.
Thing is - and I really wasn't going to do this, but this far in, it's irresistible - if we lose the ability to navigate once we stop thinking about navigation, surely it's just possible that when we hand over political control entirely to those who govern us and stop thinking about politics once the polls close, that what we're really doing is walking out onto a four-lane highway and asking to be deceived and cheated? When we stop looking for answers about the universe and shove a deity into the cracks in our current understanding, aren't we walking out into a four-lane highway and asking to remain ignorant?
And no, I'm not suggesting we throw away our GPS, or tear down our governments, or even dispense with religions. All I'm asking is that we approach all of it - technology, power, the universe - with our eyes open and our brains still switched on. Otherwise, we lose the right to sue any damn body when we get hit by cars.