Where am I … and does it matter?

I read an article from the NY Times this morning about Google maps and ‘location-awareness.’ It’s not often that my brain engages at 7 a.m. but the following few sentences gave birth to many speculations.

“In the future such location-awareness will be built into more than just phones. All of our stuff will know where it is – and that awareness will imbue the real world with some of the power of the virtual. Your house keys will tell you that they’re still on your desk at work. Your tools will remind you that they were lent to a friend. And your car will be able to drive itself to an errand to retrieve both your keys and your tools.”

A frisson of alarm passed through me upon reading those lines. I have long been uneasy about GPS in general. Yes, I know it helps you find places you’ve never been before and keeps track of the car in case of emergencies, etc. And yet I admit to a suspicion about its other purposes.

What’s the matter with getting lost once in a while? What’s wrong about not knowing exactly where you are upon occasion? The background of both questions is fear. We fear not being in control, we fear not knowing where we are, we fear what might, or might not, happen in the next moment.

We’ve already projected that on to our pets. You cannot adopt an animal from the shelter who is not already ‘chipped’ with an ID embedded under the skin. This electronic identifier with its constant transmittal is suspected as a cause of cancer in animals – and it is very difficult and costly to have removed.

There is also talk about ‘chipping’ those with Alzheimer’s so that if/when they may wander away they can more easily be found. Fast on the heels of this idea is to chip children in the event they are ever lost or kidnapped. It will only be a few short steps to chipping everyone ‘for our own protection.’

Imagine a society in which all danger has been removed, all the unknowns eliminated. We certainly would be safe – but from who and what. There are other ramifications inherent in this GPS example. If we never have to worry about getting lost, we will never have to think about where we are. We will lose connection with present reality – maybe lose is too big a word – maybe it is more correct to say we will no longer need to maintain a connection with present reality.

It is just like the early calculators. Do people need to know how to add, subtract, multiply and divide any more when a tiny machine will tell you? When was the last time you saw a cash register that didn’t tell the clerk the proper change?

When was the last time you memorized a phone number? Why bother when the phone has its own directory. Why try to remember a special moment in life when you have a camera to do it? Can you tell a story without reading it from a book?

I am not recommending we all go back to using slide rules, traveling by the stars or memorizing long passages of Shakespeare. All of the new tools of technology are useful. However, they are also making us dependent. The more civilized and complex we become, the more fearful we are.

Technology does so many things for us we no longer have to use our memories as much, we no longer have to be present and aware as much, we no longer are compelled to face ‘reality’ as much. This reminded me of a war documentary I watched the other day and the reviewer who complained that the film maker showed dead bodies.

It seems like there is this internal mental dialogue – or mental rationale – that goes something like this. “Now you don’t have to worry about anything anymore because I have it all under control. You don’t have to be afraid of the unknown because I will make you safe. You don’t have to remember because I will remember it for you.”

Who is the ‘you’ and the ‘I’ of this conversation? Is it not the mind speaking to itself? Does it sound a little like some of our politicians?  If our machines remove all reason to ponder, remember, be alert, etc. what will be left for the mind to do?

The brain is a superb and sophisticated defense and survival mechanism. When it is no longer needed for these activities will be become silent and allow an opening for the Higher Self to emerge? Or, in its fear of obsolescence, will the mind become even more paranoid and fearful.  Will an internal Homeland Security take charge?

I have no answers to these questions. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve presented a coherent enough argument to further speculation. All I know is that this desire to be safe, to avoid the unknown and unexpected, seems too much like being a cog in a giant mindless machine. What’s wrong with being a little lost at times, a little fearful and insecure? How can we discover our strength if it is never tested? How can we grow without challenge?

(here is the original article)



5 thoughts on “Where am I … and does it matter?

  1. Thanks Marie. I share your worries. Further to this, there was a study done among London cabbies some years ago, who had the city of London basically mapped in their heads. A part of the brain that is relatively weak in most of us was found to be vibrant in them. Since this study, and the introduction of GPS, i have often wondered if that bit of the brain will simply atrophy for most of us.


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