I gave a short workshop for a group of ‘senior learners’ at Lancaster University, about my research with mapping and GPS.

I started by asking them if they enjoy navigation and pretty much all of them said that they did, which was particularly satisfying as there were more women in the room than men, and so very different from the walkers I met at the footpath society last year where many of the women (of a similar age group) said that they were no good at navigating. There was lots of lively discussion about GPS and map reading, but then right at the end someone asked the question ‘but how is this art’. I started by talking about walking and navigating as an aesthetic practice, but as a keen walker and map reader someone in the group who had worked for Ordenance Survey said that for them walking and map reading is an aesthetic practice anyway without the intervention of an artist, but for her my work was art because it was about the routes of the experience individual people rather than of general features.

As a break out discussion I asked them to list what might be postitive, negative and interesting about GPS and here’s what they came up with – (these were quick comments in note form)

Safety in the hills in bad weather
Freer when driving to take notice & find unexpected things
Accuracy, in journey & place, saving carbon emissions
Safety – Drivers and walkers in the right place
Time Saving- people know where they are located
Security – people feel secure in their journeys and not get into the wrong places needing external advice

Lack of interest in surroundings (geek)
Particularly when driving cannot differentiate between vehicles and bridges, narrow roads etc and road patterns like one way systems
Over dependency
run out of power and need external power source
reliant on US military who could pull the plug

Accuracy finding THE spot
EU system (Galileo) does not rely on Uncle Sam
Commericial opportunity as measure of footfall for retail operations. Series of overlays – basic map / drive times / footfall at a location
Three dimensions GPS screen but in braille representing three dimensional technology

Other comments included that GPS generates a different sense of alertness, and someone had seen research into the brains of taxi drivers and their brain connections. One participant had spent time in the north of Canada and mentioned that you can’t rely on magnetic north that close to the North Pole and that its extremely difficult to navigate in snow when there are no landmarks, so in that case and when flying GPS can be enormously useful.

more recently I was sent the paper that refers to some of these issues and concerns “Global Impositioning Systems: Is GPS technology actually harming our sense of direction?” by Alex Hutchinson that discusses some of these issues, referring to cognitive research, and wayfinding strategies of the Inuit at Igloolik.

Many of the participants were keen to help me with my research in the future, so I’m looking forward to working with them.

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