Saturday, March 9, 2013

Mental Maps

Maybe young adults are content to use GPS to tell them where to go, rather than building a mental map of their community, because many of them were driven to school as children. A study reported on in the Atlantic concluded,
Children who had a “windshield perspective” from being driven everywhere weren’t able to accurately draw how the streets in their community connected, whereas children who walked or biked to get around produced detailed and highly accurate maps of their neighborhood street network.

So maybe these young adults have never had a solid mental map of the surroundings. Taking mass transit, while it is great in lots of respects, doesn't require much of a mental map either, once you figure out which stop is closest to where you want to go. This would make following GPS directions seem very natural.

It will be interesting to see what the consequences of this are in the next 30-50 years. Lack of a mental map would seem to result in less concern for the community, simply because it is harder to care about what you don't know. Or it could result in a larger sense of the community to be cared about because more of it is within your perceived environment. Mass transit could be more comfortable if you aren't thinking about a quicker way to drive, and driving would be less inviting if you can't easily plot a new route. (I wonder if there is a link between this and decreased car ownership rates among younger people.)

I can't imagine not having a mental map of my surroundings but, like writing letters, this may be something that fades with new generations.

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