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GPS Rots Your Brain

By Mike Savidge

Did you ever wonder if some of that marvelous technology that's making our lives easier could also be harmful?

Just about all of us have used GPS (The Global Positioning System) to help us find our way on the bike or in our vehicles. GPS consists of three parts:

  1. Space Segment – a collection of satellites which transmit location and time information.
  2. Control Segment – a set of worldwide monitoring and control stations responsible for maintaining the satellites and the data transmission.
  3. User Segment – these are your phones and other GPS devices which receive the satellite's signals and calculate your location.

With a GPS app, it's just about impossible to get lost these days. Paper maps are mostly a thing of the past as we use Google or Apple Maps, or any of the other electronic apps to help us find the quickest route to get from point A to point B. They can give us traffic and other info as they guide us with turn-by-turn  voice instructions. Oh, the marvels of modern science!

To understand why this system can be harmful you have to understand how the human brain works without GPS. On each side of the brain is a section called the hippocampus which houses our spatial memory and allows us to remember things like locations and how to get there.

A study was done several years ago in England by University College London. Volunteers had their brain activity monitored as they navigated a simulated neighborhood without any GPS assistance. The brain monitors showed activity in the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex as the person made decisions about route options as they approached each intersection. However when the volunteers used GPS to assist them, the scientists reported that “the neural activity is noticeably absent as the brain basically lets the technology take over”. The GPS will even make corrections to the route if you happen to make a wrong turn along the way.  

It's been said the machines will eventually take over the world. This could be part of their plan.

Like any other human muscle, the brain needs exercise to stay strong and healthy. Decision making, such as when and where to make a turn, is exercise for our brains. If we've been someplace before, we rely on our memory to have the directional data. We'll look for visual clues along the way to reinforce our decisions. All of this activity puts the brain to work. That builds brain muscle. 

Reliance on GPS kicks your brain into neutral as you go along for the ride. It's Mental Cruise Control. There are so many other electronic devices that are “making our lives easier” by doing all the little things we used to have to remember. Things like measuring coffee in the morning, now we just pop in a K-cup, or whatever. Know anyone's phone number, without looking it up in your Contacts List? Ever do math without a calculator? See, we need all the mental stimulation we can get.

One highly recommended (by me) Brain Builder Activity is to use the FMR Scenic Ride Maps to give your Cerebral Cortex a workout. They're FREE. You can print them out just like those old fashioned things your Dad used and you can even read them from your phone too. And if some of our maps get you to thinking and head scratching as you try to figure out our directions. Don't worry, you can always pull out your GPS to get you home.