GPS: Worthwhile or Worthless?

Copyright © 1996-2010 Garmin Ltd. or its subsidiaries

Posted by Alyssa Martin

This semester, I brought my car to school for the first time. Since I am what you would call “directionally challenged,” my parents bought me a Garmin Nuvi 1490T. For me, the GPS has replaced having to focus on driving while attempting to read Google Map printouts and for my parents, they could sleep peacefully knowing I wasn’t lost on a backcountry Iowa road.

However, with the rising popularity of GPS devices comes a slowly but steadily rising danger rate. People overestimate the capability of their GPS systems and are willingly listening to each command without much afterthought.

Recently,’s Technolog featured an article by Wilson Rothman titled “Death by GPS’: Could it happen to you?” Rothman reflected on stories that centered on GPS mishaps, one of which ended in fatality.

Back in 2008, CBS News’ The Early Show covered a story about tourists who used their GPS systems to take them to the Grand Canyon. Rather than instructing the drivers to take the most well-known road, the GPS lead the travelers through rough terrain, and ultimately stranded them on a cliff edge.

Even though these stories continue to be few and far between, people are losing track of the valuableness of common sense. It’s not all that surprising, as consumers are becoming more reliable on technology. “There’s an app for that,” is quickly turning from a joke to reality. This is unfortunate since it seems that what society needs now especially is a reality check about their technology use.

Are people becoming too dependent on technology such as GPS devices, to the point that it is hazardous? Are GPS devices a nuisance or helpful? Is technology too readily replacing skills that were once considered necessary?


8 responses to “GPS: Worthwhile or Worthless?

  1. Though my story isn’t nearly as serious as the people who were left stranded on a cliff, I do have a similar experience. A few weeks ago when I was on my way to the house of the family I nanny for I was using my GPS to navigate my way through the backcountry roads of Waukee. Even though I had been to their house once before, I am also what most people would call “directionally challenged,” so I definitely couldn’t remember the roads I had taken to get their. Rather than sending me along the more traveled back roads, my GPS took me on a long journey through dirt roads, all of which were covered in both snow and ice. Needless to say it was a bad situation to get myself into, and I ended up sliding on a patch of ice into a snow drift. I knew the way my GPS had sent me on was a different one than I had originally taken, but I made the poor decision to follow the route anyways. I love the technology behind GPS systems — they are absolutely incredible — but I know for a fact that I am becoming far too dependent on mine, and that I have little to no sense of direction without it.

  2. An Allstate ad mocks this very phenomenon:

  3. I love that commercial. I was very tempted to include it in my blog!

  4. Just a short comment- I also find it ironic that on my mom’s GPS she has it will say “make illegal U-turn,” no just U-turn, but illegal. They also can be very distracting, almost as distracting as young kids fighting in the back seat (the joys of babysitting).

  5. *not just (it won’t let me edit my post!)

  6. I really think GPS devices are helpful. I wouldn’t be able to get anywhere without one. They do make occasional mistakes but if you had a little common sense, when a sign says “no outlet,” you’ll know not to turn there. Technology is replacing some skills, but I do not think it is a bad thing.

  7. I would say that I agree the dependency of technology is taking away common sense and learning lifelong skills. There is a saying, “Fish for a man, feed him for a day. Teach him to fish, feed him for life.”

    I think that if we use GPS too much we aren’t really learning where we are going, we are simply being told. So if that GPS suddenly stops working…just plan ahead. I have GPS, and I actually thought I would need it a lot, but just by driving around a bit I have learned Des Moines pretty well. Another thing I would advise for long-distance travel is that if you are relying on GPS, also take the time to print out a hard copy of directions just in case technology has other plans for you.

  8. I’ve always enjoyed the mental challange of finding my own way. On the mock trial team here at Drake, we go on a lot of car trips. It’s very important for someone to navigate, because we need to understand the layout of the city we are in. If we use the GPS for everything, no one will remember how to get to a restaurant that we saw on the way or the Target that we passed on the highway.

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