A few days ago, I was driving to campus for class and I decided to take a route I had never taken before. We moved here over a year ago, but I still don’t know my way around town very well. I rarely go out and when I do, I usually use the GPS for directions. I decided to try my internal navigation systems that day – a system that was fairly well-developed in the past. But it seems use of GPS devices and cell phones for driving directions has diminished my personal navigation systems. I assume that when we drive following the directions a device calls out for us, we pay more attention to just the street we need and we pay less and less attention to where we are in relation to the larger context. Well, my atrophied navigation skills got me lost. Not lost lost, just turned around a bit – and I most certainly didn’t drive into a lake. So I did the unthinkable: I stopped and asked someone for directions. It was obvious to me that the man I asked was a bit taken aback and surprised. I can just hear his internal monologue: “Uhm, what the? Doesn’t this guy have a GPS or a cell phone he can check? Weirdo.”
And this simple interaction, which actually was the second time in a month that I had stopped to ask a living being for driving directions, got me thinking about our reliance on digital and internet media. How does reliance on our gadgets affect our self-reliance, creativity, flexibility, and problem-solving skills. Skills we rarely practice will atrophy. With the accessibility of vast sources of information (search YouTube for Do-It-yourself videos and you’ll see what I am referring to), do we sacrifice some of our creativity and perseverance in trying things ourselves before searching for the answer online? I’m not a technology Luddite and I believe that the power of accessibility to information is one of the greatest benefits of the internet. But if we find ourselves faced with a question or a problem, how quickly do we simply “Google it” instead of problem-solving first? What are the implications of our unthinking reliance on our gadgets? I’ve learned more from my mistakes, failures, or repeated attempts than from my successes. If we do not allow ourselves – and our students/children – the multiple opportunities to fail, what do we learn? If we take away instant access to answers, do we simply redefine the problem in question as irrelevant, unimportant? or do we persevere and try and fail and try again?