Get Lost

Get Lost……


Once upon a time, there was no MapQuest, GoogleMaps or GPS. People would say “get a pen” and they would give you directions to their house. You would write down their address, and then they would tell you the rights, the lights, the road names, and sometimes some enchanting details like – don’t make that first right, but wait ‘til you get to the rock that is shaped like a heart and hang a right ‘til you see the mailbox with flowers on it. And typically you found it just fine.

After the 1994 Northridge earthquake in Los Angeles, a section of Interstate 10 collapsed, and millions of Angelenos opened up their Thomas Guides to craft shortcuts through the mess.  (Thomas Guides were maddening books of maps (that were impossible to use while driving)). We would have to look up addresses in an index, find the page, turn lots of pages, and navigate there.  We were all modern day Magellans figuring out a way home.

I recently moved to a house in a relatively isolated location, a bizarre experiment in trying to return to nature in the middle of one of the largest metropolises in the world. It’s down a hidden dirt road and no longer do we hear horns and helicopters, but rather crickets and coyotes.

So now when I tell people where I live, I feel compelled to give them directions (turn left at the gate with an X, right at the eucalyptus tree). But they aren’t having it.  They turn to their smartphones and GPS and tell me they will “punch it in.”

Most recently, a repairman was attempting to come to my house, I told him it was hard to find, gave him the address, and clear directions. He called me several times lost.  I gave him verbal directions again.  He ignored me and said “my GPS said it doesn’t exist”.  It was an interesting existential dilemma – my entire being, my residence being denied by an IPhone.

The blind reliance on GPS over other navigational tools – the setting sun, a tree, our inherent sense of direction, the guidance of a person familiar with the terrain – is an interesting statement on society.   I would argue that GPS in some ways has led us to lose our way.   We have stopped paying attention to the landmarks, to the terrain, to others who can guide us, and instead listen to a device, tuning out ourselves.  (how many times have you made a right because your GPS told you to, when instinctually knowing that left was the correct direction, and ultimately finding out GPS was wrong?).   And by relying on GPS, we often get so lost in blindly obeying the directions it gives us, that we couldn’t find it on our own the next time.  The beauty of paying attention, is that you have also learned the way and then can rely on yourself next time, rather than the device.

Don’t get me wrong – I see the gifts offered by GPS – getting oriented to an unfamiliar space, being able to listen to the audio commands of a GPS instead of dangerously looking at a map or piece of paper while driving, quickly getting a handle on an address.  But most people too often use it and ignore themselves and their worlds.  We have become so reliant on a device that we have become disconnected from our world.  Is that progress?

Sometimes we need to get lost.  The most beautiful moments I have had in foreign cities were when I was lost – a surprising alley, a unique restaurant.  I may have spent extra hours walking the wrong way when using an old map.  But getting lost could take me down a hidden street that could change the course of my day. My friends chastised me for not putting a GPS app on my phone when I was abroad, but the trip was made richer by my tattered map, taking the wrong bus, and having wonderful experiences as I asked for directions in broken Spanish/Italian/Greek/Tibetan.  I keep those maps as a remembrance of sweaty mornings, spilled tea, and places seen.

GPS is just that – a tool. Too many of us are listening to tools, devices and things outside of us, rather than listening to ourselves.  Don’t let these tools distance you from your own inner compass or the outer world around you.  Learn to navigate by trees and stars, follow your nose, listen to yourself, and go right even when a disembodied voice tells you to go left.   When it comes down to it too many of us are outsourcing what we know and disconnecting in the name of convenience – but at what price?

Put your GPS away for a day, and see where you end up…….


This entry was posted on Monday, November 5th, 2012 at 1:17 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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