Microprocessing

Google Maps Is Melting Your Brain

Apps that help you find your way may leave you feeling totally lost in the long run

Angela Lashbrook
Debugger
Published in
7 min readOct 29, 2020

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Google Maps on a phone mounted above a car dashboard.
Photo: georgeclerk/iStock/Getty Images

I had an English teacher in high school who would repeat the same line over and over again: “Life is what you pay attention to.” He’d scribble it furiously across the whiteboard. He’d yell at us to wake up from the pathetic little lives we lived on autopilot and start paying attention. (Sorry to bring up Harry Potter here, but honest to God, in retrospect he reminds me of Mad-Eye Moody: “Constant vigilance!”) I was not entirely clear on the connection between his rabid obsession with paying attention and English-language literature, and his lack of explanation rendered his protests unconvincing. I forgot about his wisdom.

But the old man, as it turns out, was correct. This becomes clearer with each story I write, as they stack up to reveal that one of the biggest problems with technology as it currently exists is not entirely in what it provides but, primarily, in what it takes: Attention. When we’re paying attention to influencer drama on Instagram or the constant chatter of our colleagues on Twitter and our family members on Facebook, what we aren’t doing is paying attention to the world around us.

The more you use digital directions, the worse your internal navigation abilities become.

Perhaps one of the starkest examples of the attention deficit relates to our navigational skills. GPS and Google Maps are atrophying our ability to get around on our own, with a paper map, or with other people’s instructions. Using Google Maps’ dictation to get from your apartment to your new hair salon the first time you visit will make it that much more difficult to get there the next time without the GPS. And it’s possible this has long-term effects, too: The more you use digital directions, the worse your internal navigation abilities become.

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Angela Lashbrook
Debugger

I’m a columnist for OneZero, where I write about the intersection of health & tech. Also seen at Elemental, The Atlantic, VICE, and Vox. Brooklyn, NY.