Sat Nav: Simply a tool or an extension of our being?

satnavI should know better after reading The Glass Cage (N.Carr, 2014) however it would appear that I have learnt little. The other morning took me to Bristol for a seminar. I had been to Bristol before so roughly knew the way there although did not know the area around where I was going plus didn’t know where I was going to park. That said I still managed to get to my destination albeit a little late due to traffic. The outward journey was not the one which caused me issue, this was the inward journey.
Having returned to my car after the seminar I dutifully turned on my Sat Nav and set the destination as the school following the turn by turn directions of the soothing voice emanating from the little black device sat on the passenger seat (note to self: I really should get a proper mounting bracket for the Sat Nav).   After a good 20 minutes I came notice that the return route was steeply uphill and that the road was not generally wide enough for two vehicles to pass. This was certainly not the same route I had gone to Bristol on. I became a little worried at this point yet as I crossed more major roads I still ceded to the Sat Nav voice and continued following its direction as opposed to following sign posts that pointed in other directions.
I realized I had become a passenger in own car even although I was the one doing the steering. The outcome was the same, in that I reached my destination, however the tool, my Sat Nav, had changed both the process and the experience. I did not experience the drive home as the driver of my car, in the same way as I did the outward journey, taking in my surroundings, the road layouts, the signs and the millstones or other location markers. I experienced it as a passenger. I followed instructions from the little voice from the seat beside me. I relinquished responsibility and control to the technology.
The question is, was the purpose of my journey just to get to a given location or was the journey itself important?
This is a question we need to constantly ask in relation to technology use. How does the technology change the process, the experience and even us as users? As Nicholas Carr puts it in The Glass Cage, we suffer from a substitution bias in that we just belief Sat Nav for example is just a substitution for a paper map however this is not the case. If I had have been navigating via a map I would have never have relinquished responsibility to a piece of paper not matter how nice it looked. I wouldn’t have anyone to blame but myself so I would be motivated to avoid a recurrence through greater preparation or a test run to my destination, as opposed to being able to distance myself from fault by locating blame within a small black box. I would also have learned from the experience in terms of my ability to navigate the route in future, something that has certainly not happened during my return leg from Bristol.
As I reflect I realize that maybe my description of technology as a “tool” for teachers to use may under present the impact of technology or even of tools. Again, as Mr Carr describes, a tool is an extension of ourselves as human beings and in being an extension it changes us as individuals, the processes and tasks we undertake and our experience of these activities. Maybe this is a subject which all educators should consider and maybe even something we should discuss with our students.


Author: garyhenderson2014

Gary Henderson is currently the Director of IT in an Independent school in the UK. Prior to this he worked as the Head of Learning Technologies working with public and private schools across the Middle East. This includes leading the planning and development of IT within a number of new schools opening in the UAE. As a trained teacher with over 15 years working in education his experience includes UK state secondary schools, further education and higher education, as well as experience of various international schools teaching various curricula. This has led him to present at a number of educational conferences in the UK and Middle East.

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