"Without the human desire to kill more precisely, it would be harder to find that cafe."by Chris Tilbury / July 14, 2016 / Leave a comment
Published in August 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
Pinpoint: How GPS is Changing Our World
by Greg Milner (Granta, £14.99)
How often do we find ourselves wandering the streets of a new town or city, even a new area of a city we know, trying to find the café where we are supposed to be meeting our friends?
Finding our way, though, is much easier now than it was in the past. The reason for this lies in Global Positioning System (GPS), the navigational satellite system that is incorporated into the phones we use every day and the satnavs we use in our cars. Greg Milner’s Pinpoint is “the story of GPS and how it grew from a fledgling military project to a ubiquitous technology that blankets the world.” But, he suggests, for all its benefits “there is a price: the system may fundamentally change us as human beings.”
Part of that change is a growing over-reliance on the system, which has led to what Milner calls “death by GPS.” Examples abound of people who have blindly followed the instructions given by the satnav in their cars to the point where they run out of fuel in the middle of a desert, say, because they have been given the most direct route, avoiding proper roads.
While the history of GPS is interesting, the real value from Milner’s book comes from what it says about us as humans. Remember, this is a technology that was initially designed to enable military commanders to track and kill a target more efficiently. Without the human desire to kill more precisely, we might not be able to get directions to that café so easily.