posted by Joe Anaya on October 14th, 2011

It’s a pretty common theory, that our ancient male ancestors where the hunters and the women were generally the gatherers. This would mean that a man would have to track an animal, no matter where the animal led, kill it and then find his way back to the group. My theory is that any man not blessed with the “sense of direction” gene would follow his prey, get lost and die alone. Thereby not passing on his easily turned-around genes. So, through thousands of years of natural selection, modern men are genetically preselected to have a good sense of direction. GPS has turned us back into directionless monkey-men in a matter of a few years.

In our family, I used to have the nickname, Pathfinder. In the old days, with gas station maps, Thomas Guides, and AAA Triptiks, I knew where we were, where we were going and how to get there. It was easy. If for some reason the path diverged, I had a good sense of how to get us back on our way, armed only with a decent sense of direction and a visual image of the map in my head. Finding a place was sometimes more difficult, but getting home was generally an easy reversing of our path. I could even get us back to a quaint restaurant we stumbled upon years before, with a little driving around, eventually I’d get us there.

Then came the invention of GPS systems in the car. First my wife had one in her car. That was useful. She was not blessed with my sense of direction or visual recall, so having an onboard navigation system was just the ticket. She could get to client meetings and safely back to the highway leading home with the punch of a few buttons. But slowly it crept into my life. When we took her car, she insisted I punch in our destination even if I knew how to get there. God forbid if I ever equivocated on whether I “knew” where we were going. “I can get us there,” I’d assure her. “I don’t want to be driving around lost.” Less out of necessity, more to appease her, I’d grudgingly punch in the address and we’d go on our way.

It just became a habit. Get in her car: enter the address. Maybe from years of desensitization, I got used to listening to the woman’s voice tell me where to go. (And I’m sure that’s no coincidence.) I blindly followed her urgings to “turn left in ¼ mile.” Soon however, I realized I wasn’t reading street signs, understanding how I got someplace. Through lack of practice, I seem to have lost my impeccable sense of direction. I could no longer mentally reverse the path and get us home. I was dependent on the GPS temptress to find my way. That helpful voice has undone nature’s work and made me just as feeble as my long dead caveman brother.

But in a futile attempt to turn back progress, I am fighting to keep my son from the same fate. On a long road trip, despite the availability of a GPS app on his iPad, I handed my son a AAA Triptik. And told him, how to use it. I’m not sure if in his world he’ll even have to steer a car once the address is punched in. But in case, the zombie hordes overthrow society, he’s going to know how to read a map. Take that de-evolving technology.

File Under Mr. Cool