When navigating to a new location, checking for traffic, or looking for the exact location of an address, it is best to use apps like Google Maps, Waze, and Apple Maps in a way that reduces one’s dependence on them. I will describe how in just a bit. Instead of allowing one’s natural sense of location, direction, and navigation to atrophy from being spoonfed the “left in 100 feet” style directions, use this as an opportunity to build a discipline.
Discipline sounds simple, and is often overlooked, but it’s more than the sum of its parts. The act of making a decision to be disciplined, executing that discipline over time, and eventually transcending the need for that discipline as it gets written into one’s long term memory, is part of the process of making meaning. So while it is possible that automation of some repetitive task will be rewarding, it’s easy to leave out the cost of losing a small part of one’s sovereignty in the exchange.
Start by using the apps to increase your own sense of direction. Familiarize yourself with the roadmap of your most common destinations and routes. Just sit down with the maps and look around. Find your house, look at the roads, try to think of a time when you were on that road, either as a driver, passenger, or pedestrian, and tie your sense memory of the experience, sights, sounds, smells, etc., with the location on the map. You want to build as many connections from the concept of the road to various senses that can trigger your conscious knowledge of the road.
The Roman Emperor and Stoic writer Marcus Aurelius advises taking a “view from above” to better understand things:
“If you want to talk about people, you need to look down on the earth from above. Herds, armies, farms; weddings, divorces, births, deaths; noisy courtrooms, desert places; all the foreign peoples; holidays, days of mourning, market days…all mixed together, a harmony of opposites.” Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 7-48
In trying to understand the circumstances we see around us, having a mental model of the larger system within which we are all nested is essential. This is true of almost all things. There is a balance between knowing facts about the present, the insides of a system, the immanent, and knowing of larger systems within which the present is situated, the transcendent. So to Aurelius’ observations of the harmony of opposites, add the interplay of immanent and transcendent.
The marginal utility of knowing where one particular street is relative to another is very low. On the other hand, the effort to learn from an app, rather than simply consuming the left-then-right-then-left directions it gives, is also fairly low. Taking the view from above, and considering the knowledge of streets as a network, each street that we have a better model of not only adds to our knowledge of that individual street, but is adding nodes in a larger system with multiple relationships with all the other streets in the area. This multiplies the value of each new fact. In the most optimistic case, where every road is related to every other road, your knowledge increases exponentially as you learn. In reality not all roads are related to one another, but there is still a multiplier on the value of each new learned road such that the investment of effort provides compounding returns.
Give yourself 5 minutes the next time you intend to navigate somewhere and study the view from above. Try to establish that model in your mind, and use it to navigate to your destination. If you get off track, you can always go to the app for help.