A world without Google Maps

You Won’t Finish Reading This Article” is a column focused on YOU and the device you’re holding in your hand right now. This piece of Glass has changed the world, and it may have changed the way we think.

This edition is about imagining a world without the magical power of GPS. How far would you get?

If there’s one thing we take for granted today, it’s Google Maps. Imagine going back just fifty years and telling someone about this amazing invention. 

“So uh, we have this free application on our pocket computers, that allows us to find a route anywhere. I can see any part of the world, like a bird or the street-level perspective of any corner of the planet. Also, it’s completely free.”  

They might actually think you’re an insane person because that simply seems too good to be true. It was only a decade ago when people were buying bulky GPSs’, like TomTom’s and Navman’s, for their cars, and trying their best to stick them onto the windshield. Go back a little further and you’d encounter the torture of using paper maps (who remembers their parents using a Refidex?) and thick travel books. 

The power of the all-seeing Global Positioning System and its many competing satellite constellations, which were once developed for military use, have given us the ability to see exactly where we are in the world. The power to see exactly where we are, combined with the internet and the detailed maps available today, has made me confident to travel anywhere without even thinking about it.  

Going somewhere new? Just follow the directions on your phone. 

Looking for a nearby restaurant? Just follow the directions on your phone. 

Should I catch a train or call an Uber? Just follow the directions on your phone. 

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the peak of human technological development. It’s a tool with no apparent downsides. It’s something that serves as a betterment for all. The number of times Maps on my phone have saved me and ensured I got where I was supposed to go is almost immeasurable.  

So, what happens when you take that tool away?  

I experienced this unintentionally once, and I think it changed the way I travel. 

Let’s set the scene. It’s 11pm on 28 December 2023, which is just a few short days before the new year begins. I had this sudden feeling like I hadn’t done enough adventurous things that year, and time was running out quickly. So, in a moment of craziness, I booked a jetboat trip and helicopter tour of Gold Coast for the following morning – to see if I could face my fears of heights and water, all in one day.  

My parents drop me off and I get there just barely on time. This entire ordeal was not planned at all, but I still promised them I’d find my own way home, instead of making them wait around.  

I had a blast in both activities, and I finally thought my adventures for the day were ending. Little did I know my actual adventure was just about to begin.  

The helicopter I’d gotten on had taken me from one side of Gold Coast, the one I was slightly familiar with, to the other side, which was a land of mystery. Then I realised in my craziness the night before, I forgot to charge my phone and it was barely clinging to life at just 10%. I also somehow forgot my wallet, so my smartwatch served as my wallet. As long as it didn’t die too.  

Since I was not in a rush to get home, I made the choice to turn off my phone to save the little battery for an emergency and decided to embrace the situation.  

I had to talk to so many people to ask for directions, but it turns out most people I met weren’t from the Gold Coast, so I decided just to wing it by following street signs and the direction of the city on the horizon. I walked over 10km down random streets until I worked my way towards a bus stop. A nice bus driver gave me a free Go Card for the day since I was lost. And in the midst of all that, I felt like I was seeing the city from a whole new perspective.  

Using Maps is handy, and often a must, but that whole ordeal showed me how many things I missed out on because I had never been truly lost. I discovered a tiny shop with the best burgers ever, a hidden beach with not a single soul in sight, and eventually I reached the train station. I thought my adventure was finally over because I had a good idea about the train network, but guess what, I got on the wrong train and the missteps and adventures continued until I finally got home after six hours.  

Maybe most people would call that a terrible day, but finding my own way home was an experience I’ll never forget. Without the power of technology leading the way, I had to actually rely on my sense of direction and force myself to do things I would have never done before because there was no other choice.  

Am I saying we should stop using Maps?  

Absolutely not. It’s one of the most crucial resources we have. So much so that if there’s ever a war, the global positioning system will be one of the first things to be sabotaged because it’s just THAT important to our daily lives. But that’s a problem for our future selves.  

Right now, we live in a unique moment in history where there’s a route to any place on Earth. We shouldn’t take that for granted and we should embrace the adventure, even if we get lost along the way.

Abishai Sujith (he/him) is a QUT student (Bachelor of Urban Development) and a content creator. With a keen eye for the intersection of technology and everyday life, he delves into the impact of emerging technologies. Abishai is driven by a passion to understand how our daily lives are shaped by design, construction and technology.

Abishai Sujith
Abishai Sujith
Articles: 5

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