Planetizen - Urban Planning News, Jobs, and Education

Does the Evolution of Smartphones Come at the Expense of 'Spatial Thinking'?

Are smartphones supplementing the capacity of humans to think spatially, such that future generations might lose fundamental cognitive abilities?
September 9, 2014, 2pm PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
Share Tweet LinkedIn Email Comments

"The rise in mobile navigation technology has, in just a few years, transformed the way we get around cities," writes Henry Gabar. "In 2011, 35 percent of Americans had smartphones; by 2013, that had grown to 61 percent." Moreover, "[three]-quarters of those people now use their phones for directions and location-based services. One in five Americans used the Google Maps app in June; one in eight used Apple Maps. Tens of millions more rely on car-based modules hitched to the satellites of the Global Positioning System."

The question pondered by Gabar is whether humans stand to lose very valuable brainpower in letting their phones take over so much navigation work. "Experts who study the issue are concerned that spatial thinking might be the next casualty of technological progress, another cognitive ability surpassed and then supplanted by the cerebral annex of the Internet….They worry we may become, as a society, what the Japanese call hōkō onchi—deaf to direction."

The longish-read article includes comparisons to the advancements in 19th century cartography that inspired similar fears at the time, as well as the counter argument that the rich data and context-filling capabilities of contemporary maps could actually increase spatial consciousness.

Full Story:
Published on Tuesday, September 9, 2014 in CityLab
Share Tweet LinkedIn Email