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Remember when people could read maps?

We were off to a huge soccer game. I asked Martijn, “What’s the route to Rotterdam?”

“I have no idea,” he said. “I just plug the address into the GPS and go.”

Martijn has never had a good sense of direction, of place or interest in maps. Before GPS he handed his car keys over to Annemie, his sister, or someone else and let them drive.

There's much to worry about with the possible negative effects of instant emailing, texting, tweeting, etc-ing. What about the possible downsides of GPS?

Only the white-haired go to AAA for maps, wonderful maps to hold in one’s hands, soak in the concept of space, compass direction and — upon closer inspection — terrain. The new generations have no clue that Nevada is east of California, that the drive from San Francisco toward Sacramento is northeast, not directly east. They have little understanding of the location of the many great cities in and around New York City or even that there is a state also called New York. Who knows where Liechtenstein or Andorra are located or that they are actually independent nations not Disneyland parks?

UPS or taxi drivers were geniuses when it came to finding that remote street; now it’s a lost art. Enter the GPS address and start driving just like Martijn. There are GPS devices for bicycles, and I suspect for tricycles and baby buggies (perambulators in Great Britain, but again who cares?).

In the heated, contemplative discussion in the Foreign Relations Committee of the U.S. Congress, congresspersons lean to their iPhones and Google maps to help understand where Iraq or Somalia is. They should know where U.S. drones are being targeted. Excuse me, “understanding” was grossly over generalized, better where such countries are “placed.”

The world has shrunk, with modern communications able to deliver a note halfway around the world in seconds. Convenient, but the sense of place is lost. We cannot yet be “beamed up Scotty,” then transported thousands of miles away, to be beamed down. Perhaps at some future point beyond my life. We still have boots, sandals, high heels (still?) on the ground, so place, relationships of space are still important, critical to understanding.

Yet yesterday I used my Prius GPS to find the quite hidden Toyota dealership in Medford. I needed a new battery for my electronic key. Remember when real keys opened car doors?

— Andy Anderson lives in Ashland.