What does it mean to live in a smartphone world where we need never get lost?
This summer I got lost. I was high in the mountains in Corsica, had no mobile reception. At first I retraced my steps and tried a different route. When that didn’t work, I and had to dig out the old compass I inherited from my dad, and a printed map to find my way. There are many benefits to getting lost – perhaps you find new places or experience new things, or perhaps it just helps you develop a way of solving problems.
At an event at the RSA tonight, Professor Howard Gardner was discussing his new research into how digital media is impacting how young people grow and develop. For him, one of the most surprising findings from the research was that almost none of the young people they interviewed had ever got lost. They always have access to a smartphone and a map or navigation app that they can use to find out where they are and how to get where they are going.
Apps solve very discrete problems that we have in our lives, and smartphones know where we are at any stage. This is a brilliantly useful thing, and means that we can find our way wherever we want to go. A simple example of how digital media is changing our lives and the experiences that we have. But it also shows how the impact of digital can be much broader on how we act, what we experience and how we interact with one another.
If we never get lost, or we always have a smartphone and app to help us find our way we will never have to problem solve for ourselves. We risk not developing the skills and techniques to solve simple directional problems, and this could have many consequences. Gardner’s research showed that the same young people who no longer get lost, are also less likely to take risks. Digital tools help us but also change the experiences we have and challenge how we develop new skills.
The impact of digital technologies runs much deeper than we might think and is having influence across our lives, beyond just communication and social media. They are changing the way we interact with each other and the experiences we have, and this is impacting how we develop and the things that we do.