Signals Even GPS Cannot Detect

Aylie Baker

listen_btn

Awakin FeatureReturning to the US was always hard for me, in part because I began to notice how GPS technology was eroding what was left of our wayfinding capabilities. In the spring of 2013, I flew from Palau back to New York City, and I remember walking out of the subway on a starry night and struggling to break free of the shuffling crowd, because everyone was looking down at the maps on their phones. I started to read more about celestial navigation and the maritime history of the Atlantic, wanting to understand how we had come to abandon the stars and choose such a different way of moving through the world. My partner Miano often says that before modern technology, we were all moved by nature. And he’s right. I think we forget that. [...]

Technologies themselves did not lead us astray, but our impulse to develop, adopt, and rely on them mirrors a slow wandering away from the receptive centers of ourselves.

Hundreds of years of observing the planets, of striving to understand our place in the universe, of equations scribbled down and passed on to be elaborated over generations—all of that now gets compressed into the instruments that we use every day without a second thought. And part of what feels so scary to me about witnessing the rise and application of GPS in my lifetime is that all those generations of learning are obscured; they’re hidden in code, recorded on SIM cards and giant hard drives off in the desert. We can drive to the restaurant with the four-star Yelp review or fly thirteen hours across the Pacific Ocean without any appreciation for the incredible majesty behind these gestures.

It would be easier, more efficient, far faster to continue moving through the world along the grids that we’ve created, following the routes we are presented. But what is the impact on us? Recent studies are revealing the effects GPS is having on our brains and on the way we relate to the world. Our daily journeys are now riddled with refrains of Turn right, Turn left, Slow down, Stop. When these directional prompts come from outside of us, we don’t lay down memories in the same way we would navigating through the world without instruments. The mental maps that we construct of the places we inhabit are slowly being shredded, rendered into strip maps that lead to isolated, meandering points. The restaurant, the mountain, the grocery store, even Grandma’s house, begin to float around without any clear interrelationship or tether to the wider landscape. As our dependence on GPS technology increases, we are in danger of no longer integrating our journeys into a larger sense of home.

Even a map of home is a representation, a slice of space captured by the mind at a discrete point in time. It is always a fragment of the fabric of the universe. It doesn’t matter whether this map is updated every few years or every few seconds: it is flat. It will never be fully present or capture the rippling dynamism of the natural world. It will never be truly alive.

It’s scary to think about stepping back from these instruments, scary because stepping back might mean admitting that we never really learned where we are. For most of human history, this question has run like an umbilical cord to the core of who we are—and anyone who has been lost knows the waves of discomfort, fear, shame, guilt, loneliness, and longing that rise up in the face of not knowing.

Wayfinders are always reminding their students that each of us is capable of picking up signals that even the most powerful GPS could never detect. And we do, all of us, moment by passing moment. How ironic that we’ve designed wayfinding instruments and climate-controlled environments that shut out the many forces that are there, waiting to guide us. Humidity, vibration, shadows, birdsong—they reach out to us in every moment, silently imploring us to remember that we are—all of us, always—life responding to life.

Aylie Baker was born in Maine. She has worked on community-driven storytelling projects that address water-related issues in Chile, Vermont, Oregon, and Micronesia. She is committed to supporting the healing of watershed communities. Excerpted from her article, Wave Patterns.

Seed questions for reflection: What does "being moved by nature" mean to you? Can you share an experience of a time the elements around you guided you when you were lost? What helps you step back from your instruments and lean into where you truly are?

Add Your Reflection:

16 Previous Reflections:

  • link
    On Jan 19, 2019 Michele wrote:
    Thank you Aylie. You're right... I can feel a different part of my brain responding when I use the GPS. It's as though the mental circuitry that was taught by my dad and mom -- always watch how you go into a place so you can come back the same way -- is now being overridden by a system determined to get me places by the most expeditious means. Nothing to do with beauty or grace, but the fact of speed and on-time delivery (how can they possibly know how long it will take me to get there?). Not... the birds will be in the water over at the estuary, so let's go by there, before you set off down the highway. Rather, the endless flight of taillights as you quickly get to your destination.

    Post Your Reply
  • link
    On Jan 19, 2019 Quacinda Jodyne Topkok wrote:
    What does "being moved by nature" mean to you?
    It means I am getting back to my roots. I am only one part of the created world; I have a spiritual and a physical nature. In today's societies many are focused on 'making a living' which may also mean 'making a profit'. Unfortunately we can become so focused on 'making a living' or 'making a profit' in the physical world we forget we also need to work on being spiritual. 'Being moved by nature' means being spiritual [to me]. Spiritual experience cannot be described with the words of any language. We just ARE. We live in the moment, take life as it is.. and live with positive mindview,

    Post Your Reply
  • link
    On Jan 18, 2019 vaishali jethava wrote:
    This article was a mode for reflecting how we fast we all learn to adapt technology. There are multiple invisible forces around us which make us being habitual of tech or GPS as mentioned in this article. Somewher in the concious mind I used to think how badly these things are damaging our brain system. But it never occur to me strongly. First step to everything is being aware of it. This article helped me to be strongly aware of what happenes with us. Will try to be more aware of these things. Thanks for writing it!!!!!!

    Post Your Reply
  • link
    On Jan 18, 2019 Katie Johann wrote:
    Thank you very much for this article, Aylie. I have had an experience many years ago, when driving through LA, with GPS, and realizing its effect on me. Just that, the sense of being completely lost without this phone, and if I had started my journey without it, I would have had a sense of where I was. I think that GPS is only a small fragment of one large subject; our disconnection from nature. So many do not realize that we are, in fact, nature.
    And that the stars, the trees, the animals are connected to us, on the basis of life. In other words, we have a connection to them. And the more we explore this connection, the more we will find that they are willing and able to communicate with us.

    Post Your Reply
  • link
    On Jan 18, 2019 Riesah Prock wrote:
    Following the Kenow Fire event and evacuation here in SW Alberta (Sept. 11-12.17) I was finally able to walk from my home down the road in the direction of the fire (Waterton Lakes National Park). I was suddenly stopped by the incredible light surrounding a stand of trees which I'd passed many times in previous walks. The light was so golden and beautiful. Then I heard the trees speak to me of their grief in losing their brothers and sisters in the Park. I too had been grieving (the eventual loss was tallied at 70% of the trees in the Park). I responded with my tears and spoke of our shared grief with them, silently from my heart. I was fixed to the spot; my husband had gone on ahead, but stopped when he realized I was standing still by the road. I cannot pass that place without greeting the Standing Ones and stopping for a moment to honour them.

    1 reply: Katie | Post Your Reply
  • link
    On Jan 16, 2019 susan wrote:
    Really interesting and thought-provoking article!
    Relying on our internal compass... trusting our intuition... allowing space (patience, time, listening) to others and our environment... engaging with others and our environment... allowing these to guide us, is almost a radical thought/ideal/action today! Thank you for this wonderfully and thoughtfully written article to remind me this early afternoon in southeast China!

    Post Your Reply
  • link
    On Jan 16, 2019 Sanjeev Verma wrote:
    Another good example is cameras in our phone--you will see people taking photographs and selfies instead of enjoying the specific moment and surrounding environment. People are pre-occupied with the thought of taking a picture and sharing the picture with their friends in social network instead of enjoying the surroundings.

    Post Your Reply
  • link
    On Jan 15, 2019 Alexandra wrote:
    Exactly. No comment beyond Exactly. Thank you.

    Post Your Reply
  • link
    On Jan 15, 2019 Erica wrote:
    I just turn it off and get on with my day.
    i look for balance in using/not using the cell phone and computer.
    now that we have the technology why not use it to our best advantages?


    Post Your Reply
  • link
    On Jan 15, 2019 Susan wrote:
    I was walking a path in the Tetons in winter. It was cold and i love the cold
    because you FEEL it. It was dawn and the sun had just tipped the tops of the mountains.
    i was overcoe with a feeling of a conduit. of a connection moving through me from the universe to the core of
    the earth. Still moves me remembering it here.

    Post Your Reply
  • link
    On Jan 13, 2019 Kristin Pedemonti wrote:
    Being moved my nature to me means being more connected to the interconnecteness of our environment and ourselves within that environment rather than being fragmented by small slices as the article shared. This connection can happen in urban or natural settings, I think it's about intention: connecting to what is there rather than being tethered to technology. As for being lost and being guided by elements rather than any maps, yes, I can share a time in an urban environment and one in nature. 3am in Paris after dancing Tango, the metro was closed so I took a bus back to the neighborhood where I was staying with a friend. Though it was familiar in daylight, at 3am, it all looked quite different and in Paris many of the street signs are painted on the sideds of houses and buildings. The 3am bus also does not make the usual stops, so I was nearly a mile away from my friend's home. I had no GPS, only a small flip phone cell phone with a dead battery. I navigated by familiar landmarks: Sa... [View Full Comment] Being moved my nature to me means being more connected to the interconnecteness of our environment and ourselves within that environment rather than being fragmented by small slices as the article shared. This connection can happen in urban or natural settings, I think it's about intention: connecting to what is there rather than being tethered to technology.
    As for being lost and being guided by elements rather than any maps, yes, I can share a time in an urban environment and one in nature.
    3am in Paris after dancing Tango, the metro was closed so I took a bus back to the neighborhood where I was staying with a friend. Though it was familiar in daylight, at 3am, it all looked quite different and in Paris many of the street signs are painted on the sideds of houses and buildings. The 3am bus also does not make the usual stops, so I was nearly a mile away from my friend's home. I had no GPS, only a small flip phone cell phone with a dead battery. I navigated by familiar landmarks: Sacre Coeur cathedral on the hill above gave perspective, then a cemetary I recalled, then a bakery I recalled, then a corner bistro, then a line of trees on either side of a stately street, I knew I was nearly at her doorstep. I found my way back thanks to paying attention to surrroundings rather than being glued to a cell phone. [Hide Full Comment]

    1 reply: Susan | Post Your Reply
  • link
    On Jan 12, 2019 Jagdish P Dave wrote:
    My being is made of five primordial elements of nature-eartn, water, fire, air and space. These elements are within me and outside of me. When I pay my loving nonjudgmental attention to my inner natural elements, I get intimatly connected with outer natural elements. Such experience makes me fully alive. and present. If and when I depend on technology for direction, I lose my connection with my directional inner signal suh as my inuitive knowing and gut feeling and signals coming from nature. like the sun, moon, northploe star, wind and couds. One day my friend and I were taking a walk on the bank of the Ganges. We got deeply connected with the touch of the cool air, the sound of the river, the vastness of the blue sky and unseen yet deeply felt spiritual vibrations.We did not use our smart phone for identifying location, distance and direction. This expereince made us vibrantly alive, grateful and joyful. Living in the present moment without getting distracted or mentally occupied by ... [View Full Comment] My being is made of five primordial elements of nature-eartn, water, fire, air and space. These elements are within me and outside of me. When I pay my loving nonjudgmental attention to my inner natural elements, I get intimatly connected with outer natural elements. Such experience makes me fully alive. and present. If and when I depend on technology for direction, I lose my connection with my directional inner signal suh as my inuitive knowing and gut feeling and signals coming from nature. like the sun, moon, northploe star, wind and couds.
    One day my friend and I were taking a walk on the bank of the Ganges. We got deeply connected with the touch of the cool air, the sound of the river, the vastness of the blue sky and unseen yet deeply felt spiritual vibrations.We did not use our smart phone for identifying location, distance and direction. This expereince made us vibrantly alive, grateful and joyful. Living in the present moment without getting distracted or mentally occupied by the technological gajets helps me lean into what I am experincing, where I am truly are.

    Namaste


    [Hide Full Comment]

    1 reply: Katie | Post Your Reply
  • link
    On Jan 12, 2019 David Doane wrote:
    We have moved away from trusting our experience. The forces that be, such as the medical/pharmaceutical industry, religion, science, technology companies, instruct us to not trust our experience and trust them instead. By experience, I mean what we are experiencing -- feeling, sensing, intuiting. Since we are part of nature and an extension of nature, what we are experiencing is nature. Trusting what I experience is trusting nature. Relying on outside factors, such as technologies, drugs, dogmas, and experts instead of internal experience separates us from our experience and from nature, separates us from our foundation, separates us from our self. Trusting my inner self, that is, trusting my experience, trusting my gut, my feelings, my heart, has many times guided me and brought me to a good outcome. What helps me step back from external forces and lean into what I am experiencing, lean into me, is that I am alive and me when I do that, and it is fulfilling. Technology can be of help ... [View Full Comment] We have moved away from trusting our experience. The forces that be, such as the medical/pharmaceutical industry, religion, science, technology companies, instruct us to not trust our experience and trust them instead. By experience, I mean what we are experiencing -- feeling, sensing, intuiting. Since we are part of nature and an extension of nature, what we are experiencing is nature. Trusting what I experience is trusting nature. Relying on outside factors, such as technologies, drugs, dogmas, and experts instead of internal experience separates us from our experience and from nature, separates us from our foundation, separates us from our self. Trusting my inner self, that is, trusting my experience, trusting my gut, my feelings, my heart, has many times guided me and brought me to a good outcome. What helps me step back from external forces and lean into what I am experiencing, lean into me, is that I am alive and me when I do that, and it is fulfilling. Technology can be of help as long as I keep it an adjunct to self and not let it take over. I prefer to trust me rather than what is not me.[Hide Full Comment]

    Post Your Reply

Search Awakin Readings

Or search by year or author.

Subscribe to Weekly Email

Every week, we send out a digest with a reading and inspiring stories to our global community of 92,009 people. Subscribe below.

(unsubscribe)

Contact Us

If you'd like to suggest a thought or want to drop us a suggestion, drop us a note.