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GPS

What does technology do to us?

· Inspiration

Without my small bike GPS device I could never have done this trip. Yes, of course 10-20 year ago people also biked long distances, guided by a paper map, but just imagine what that map looks like in 5 Beaufort of wind and rain. Now I reach my destiny with a beep at every corner that I have to take, and just do it.

I was thinking of this in the context of an intriguing book I am reading: Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari. A sweeping narrative of our global human history, since we started to talk. We are different from animals, because we have fiction, he says. This fiction nowadays comprises big concepts like nation states, religions and multinational companies. He states that our believe in these concepts is not stupid, but in fact the essence of our capability to collaborate in groups beyond 10-500 people, but extends it to millions. He also talks about technology, that only started to accelerate in a culture that had a fertile cultural narrative to allow this and in fact became a self-reinforcing loop (Western Europe; the West in general). The success of technology and capitalism may ultimately be our end, when the narrative that feeds it, cannot be changed.

In fact, that is what -I think- we are doing and should be doing right now. Biking is so good for thinking and digesting thoughts!

But back to my GPS-device. It also has an important drawback. Although it gets you to your destiny , you just don’t know where you are! It’s a strange idea that you only know where you are when you are able to point your finger on a map.

At a ‘D(epartemental)-road’ my device told me to take a right to a smaller road. My guts told me to be aware...but I obeyed. It was pouring and I didn’t want to lose time and energy. The road became muddy and unpaved with a line of grass in the middle, and went down steeper and steeper. It went into a forest and rainwater dripped from the trees. And then the road stopped in the middle of nowhere… I had to go back. Should I have had a map, I would have looked for an alternative at the moment I was in doubt about the road. My believe in technology encouraged me to go on and to persist till the end. I had no alternative way to make a decision because I missed the overview of the whole map. I had become short-sighted due to technology!

GPS had been a theme in my farmer conversations too. A modern tractor seems to cost some 150.000 euro and they need an additional GPS system of 15k euro. Such a system has an accuracy of 5 cm! Better than any farmer can do. (Although on a contour of a slope, where the wheels slip down, it is still difficult to get that kind of precision. Something a Dutchman wouldn’t think of 😉.)

 

One farmer nowadays farms 150 ha on his own, thanks to technology. But what is lost? Can this also lead to some kind of short-sightedness?

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