Is Sat-Nav ruining our sense of Geography?


I’ve just been on the radio (briefly) chatting about whether GPS and sat navs are eroding our sense of geography. Whether we’re so busy peering at our screens that we don’t see the lambs gambolling in the field nearby or whether we never bother to learn where places are because we know we can just tap in a postcode and whether that’s good or bad.

Needless to say, I was on the side of the GPS. That thing is a life-saver, and while it would be nice in theory if I knew where Bognor Regis is, I am not going to spend time rote learning how far away it is or what routes I need to take to get there. If indeed I did want to get there in the first place.

The argument is part of that whole broader debate about whether the internet is making us a bit stupider because we know we can rely on Google to feed us facts rather than sitting down and learning them. Some fair points there – but I always think that being freed from having to learn lots of facts is a good thing and lets us do more exciting and useful things with our time.

Humans have always made tools to help them do stuff faster and better. Back to the satnavs – do we really want to spend time wandering around lost in the Cotswolds or South London, when you could save a lot of time by just knowing where you’re going. Plus quicker car journeys mean less fuel is burned, which is cheaper and greener.

And if you want to spend time getting lost in countryside and looking at lambs then you can always switch the electronic devices off.

There has been an argument kicking around which says that because sat navs always channel us down the most efficient routes so they are effectively restricting where we go. Called restrictive cartography, we mentioned it in story: Are electronic maps trapping you in virtual prisons? it’s a bit of a crazzeee conspiracy theory in my humble opinion, but hey.

Anna Leach


  • Yes, sat navs are GREAT, and very efficient (I have both a TomTom and also sat nav on my media phone). I would also wish to add that I DO “know my way about”, and am geographically aware.
    However, the drivers of “tomorrow” will have NO idea of geographics because, as the topic states, it will be a case of “get in the car, sat nav on, input destination, and off you go”. And as time goes on, more and more cars will have them factory fitted as standard. :-)

  • Well Anna if you really want to spend a lot more money on fuel that you need to because your sat nav has decided on the ‘best’ route for you then go ahead. But also think about the planet as well as your purse.

    Sat nav is brilliant in many instances but crap in others and if we (you) favour ease over ignorance then its very sad.

    Your article proves exactly the theory you’re attempting to debunk

  • Yes, but getting lost is fun! Imagine what new places you might serendipitously discover, that you might never ever have stumbled on. Imagine what new, and devilish arguments you will regale your partner with, about map reading skills and the lack thereof!

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