I have a navigation system in my car. When I first got it, I thought it was the coolest thing ever. With a few quick keystrokes, I can have the dulcet sounds of Charlize (yeah, that's what I call her...) guiding me to my destination.
At first, it was a lifesaver. I travel a lot and frequently find myself in unfamiliar locations. Nothing gives me confidence in a strange town like Charlize telling me where to go.
I got so accustomed to it that I started using her EVERYWHERE - even when I was traveling around my own neighborhood. If I was in a hurry - Charlize! If I was heading to a strange part of town - Charlize!
Pretty soon, I started to realize that I was having trouble with basic navigation. It turns out, I am not alone.
I did some research. I learned that GPS use can actually reduce the size and functionality of the part of the brain (the posterior hippocampus) responsible for memory and navigation. This area of the brain is also one of the first parts affected at the onset of Alzheimer's Disease. [Edwards (2010, November 18). Study suggests reliance on GPS may reduce hippocampus function as we age. PhysOrg.com. Retrieved October 18, 2013, from http://phys.org/news/2010-11-reliance-gps-hippocampus-function-age.html]
Another study shows that cab drivers in London have larger hippocampi. They have to go through extensive training in one of the world's most complex cities in order to be licensed. Navigating the crazy streets of London appears to create more brain cells in the very same areas that the GPS is shrinking. [Woollett K and Maguire EA. Acquiring 'the Knowledge' of London's layout drives structural brain changes. Curr Biol 2011. Retrieved October 18, 2013, from http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/News/Media-office/Press-releases/2011/WTVM053658.htm]
This is a perfect example of "use it or lose it". Relying on technology means we aren't exercising portions of our brains. It's making us stupid and possibly putting us at risk for truly debilitating disease.
What do we do about this? First off, it should be pretty clear that we need to ween ourselves off the GPS! If we're not lost and we don't need to use it, we shouldn't.
More importantly, we have to realize that our bodies are made to be used in certain ways. The brain needs stimulation as much as your muscles need exercise. When we rely on the comfortable and avoid challenging ourselves, our bodies begin to shrink and atrophy.
I've made the conscious decision to distance myself from Charlize. I try to use her only when necessary and I've even gone back to printing directions from Google maps so I can plot the course in my head. It's a much lonelier trip nowadays, but the company wasn't worth the price I would have to pay.
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