Sunday, 5 June 2011

Garmin - creating geographical blindness?

I have had a Garmin GPS for years. Possibly ten years. I once escaped arrest in China by pretending that my GPS unit was a mobile phone. Last Christmas, after our old Garmin GPS unit (called Daniel after one of the male voices that tells you where to go) started to become very unreliable, especially in London, was replaced by a newer, sexier model. The new model is called Daniel (after one of the voices on....errr....our old GPS unit) and is very slim-line, very Nuvi and very irritating.

The old Daniel used to scream blue murder if you drove within 5 miles of a speed camera. The new Daniel seems unbothered. He amost shrugs his shoulders in a huff as if to say "You want me to make noises as well as show it on my pretty little screen?"

But a far bigger irritation with the new unit - and I believe - all Garmin GPS units is that it shows me exactly where I am but with no real context. A couple of weeks ago I drove from New Orleans to near Baton Rouge and noticed that the main references visually and as reference 'cues' were road numbers...I-10, Highway 44, Highway 22. These take priority over place names, especially as every 'place' of any size in the US is a 'city'. There are no villages or towns, just 'cities'.

The Garmin maps in units everywhere use exactly this same context of roads, not places. This means that when I am driving along in an unknown area I have absolutely no idea where I am passing and where is just off my route. It often flags up street names, but not the name of the village, town or city in which the street sits. You drive along in a complete sea of ignorance, with no idea where you are, except that a) you are precisely here, now, b) what road you are on and c) when you next have to turn.

Garmins's GPS units are creating geographical blindness, a complete lack of spatial awareness.  The maps in Garmin units are not maps at all, just a means of filling in the bits between the road you are on now and another unknown road. Almost like a painting that manages to show nothing at all apart from what you want it to show at that moment. 

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