Using Google Maps, or any GPS or maps tool, is something we all do.
The use of services like Google Maps is even more popular when going somewhere new.
We enter the place we want to go to into our maps app, and select the directions option so it can plot a course which takes the shortest amount of time.
Often, users will not even double check the address of the destination against the destination in the maps app – we completely trust Google to get us to the right place, first time, along the best route.
And while this may cause issues in the scenario that your phone goes flat or you lose data throughput – situations which happen less often as time goes on – there is a big negative to using map apps everywhere you go.
According to research referenced by the University of Southern California, using apps like Google Maps damages your “wayfinding” abilities.
What this means is that while you get to a destination quickly and safely using a maps app, you typically do not remember how you got there – and if you were asked to do the same journey again without Google Maps, you would struggle.
Jennifer Bernstein, a lecturer of Spatial Sciences at the university, stated that research has shown people previously used landmarks “against a larger landscape” to find their way, and that new routes were discovered and learnt by linking landmarks together.
Using your smartphone to navigate removes this method, as we become less aware of our surroundings and movements.
The use of navigation apps can also have a longer-term impact on our ability to find our way, thanks to constant disengagement from our environment as we travel.
“People are less likely to remember a route when they use guided navigation. Without their device, regular GPS users take longer to negotiate a route, travel more slowly, and make larger navigational errors,” said Bernstein.
Despite the downside, it is argued that the ubiquity of smartphones and the accuracy of service like Google Maps means losing these skills is not a death sentence.
Bernstein states that criticising the use of map apps may be a form of ethno-nostalgia, which is when we “find ourselves sentimental for an imagined simpler place and time”.
There are benefits to map apps, too, as the ease at which we can go to new places without the fear of getting lost allows people to explore and enjoy their trips.
Google Maps has evolved rapidly in recent years, and offers an array of navigation services.
Besides directions to your destination, it offers street view photos, real-time traffic updates, and even guided virtual tours of natural wonders like the Amazon river.
The app is extremely popular and has been installed by over 1 billion users on the Google Play store.