I’m becoming more and more aware of another Yin/Yang relationship I have with technology. There was a time when I was fairly renown for my orienteering abilities. It didn’t take very long at all for me to develop an innate sense for where I was relative to other places, even in large cities in which I’d just arrived. And I could figure out how to use public transportation to get from one place to another very quickly. In other words, you wanted me on hand when you travel.
Then Google Maps arrived on my phone. This life-changing app shows me where I am, where I’m going and the best way to get there. This means I’ve learned not to worry which way is north, much less how to get back to where I just came from. On top of that, I’ve quit even consulting subway maps and train schedules. I just stand outside a subway station and ask Google Maps to tell me how to get from where I am to where I’m going, and then follow instructions.
Progress, right? But recently I found myself in New York City trying to guide a group of co-workers from one place to another two blocks away — a place we had already been. But horror of horrors, my phone had died in the interim and I hadn’t paid particularly close attention to how we got there initially. What ensued was an embarrassing series of choosing every possible wrong way back.
It was at that point that I realized that the orienteering part of my brain has officially atrophied. Does it matter? Do I really need it anymore? Is this just another example of shunting another vital process off into the cloud?
I suspect it does matter. Not just for the times when my phone fails to work, but for so many of the other faculties nature has endowed us as humans with over the 2.8-million years since the emergence of homo habilis. I’m certain that in allowing one core, historically vital brain function to lapse, others closely related to it will also be affected. I don’t know exactly what those might be, but I have to suspect they’re in there somewhere.
Then again, maybe it’s just part of the uniquely human process of cultural evolution outstripping genetic evolution. Maybe it doesn’t matter. After all, my obsidian spearhead flaking skills are non-existent, and yet this at one time was likely as key a survival skill as knowing how to get back to camp after a hard day of mastodon hunting.
But presuming it does matter, how does one deal with it? I have no idea. I’d love to hear how you go out of your way to keep sharp your abilities made obsolete by technology, if you do at all.