Asking for directions?

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?

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One thought on “Asking for directions?

  1. Great questions. I think that’s what is critical in all of this – to constantly be aware. Be questioning. Be mindful. I don’t think there are answers to many of these questions, as they span a great deal of gray area. The extremes are easier to deal with (people driving in ponds). We’ll look back in time and perhaps have a better idea of it all, but culture and our tools shift. We lose the capacity and skill to do one thing (skin an animal), yet gain new capacities and skills at the same time. It’s hard, in the face of innovation, to rank one over the other, especially in the gray areas. For me, it is mindset of learning that is critical, regardless of our tools. Persistence. Resilience. Curiosity. Problem-solving. Risk-taking. Embracing failure. These are timeless and are shaped by much more than our devices. That’s an entirely different post. Get busy 😉

    I love my GPS. Could I go back to using maps? Sure. But, it would be much more dangerous, as I remember driving and fumbling with large foldable maps at the same time, trying to read the map and pay attention to the road, missing turns and driving erratically. I love that my GPS warns me of upcoming turns, provides a visual of what the signs, exits, and merges will look like, and never gets frustrated with me. Recalculating, “she” says. How polite. There is no passenger yelling at me, “I told you to turn!! Why didn’t you listen to me?” (not naming names here 😉 I do think I’m not so aware of the geographic locations that I’m driving through because of the GPS, but I’m not too worried about that – I DO think about it and talk about it with my kids all the time.

    This, for me, is what’s most critical in it all… and something you demonstrate so well here. Mindfulness.

    Here’s a post that also demonstrates mindfulness in a different way. I think you’ll enjoy it.
    http://chriswejr.com/2013/09/19/why-i-took-facebook-and-twitter-off-my-phone/

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