Destination Reached?

By Mark Nuyens
7 min. read Throwback

This essay was written by me 2010 as part of a school assignment on media revolutions. A lot has changed since then, but I still find it enjoyable to revisit essays like these as a reminder of how significantly technology has evolved in a relatively short period of time. In that essay, I referred to the navigation system as a distinct device, separate from your phone, as there was no smartphone app available to integrate it yet.

'Ambulance and police in Putten lost valuable minutes because their navigation systems couldn't find the address where a man had a heart attack. Although police officers and paramedics attempted to resuscitate the man upon arrival, it was unsuccessful for the 60-year-old resident of Putten. The police cannot accurately determine the number of minutes lost, nor can it be said whether the man would have survived the heart attack if emergency services had arrived earlier.'

Route navigation systems are playing an increasingly significant role in our lives. When we go somewhere unfamiliar, we simply activate the navigation system with a push of a button and are guided to our destination. We don't have to remember anything or ask a passerby for directions. Sometimes, this system even determines the difference between life and death, as you read earlier. Route navigation systems have a profound influence on people's behavior, and it wouldn't surprise me if traffic signs become obsolete in the future since everyone pays more attention to their navigation system. In short, we are living in a time when people are increasingly trading their innate sense of direction for a digital road map. It's a time when a new media revolution awaits us.

Speaking of a media revolution, it refers to a situation where a new technology ultimately reshapes people's way of thinking and acting, accompanied by a transformation of society itself. In other words, a media revolution changes the entire world. The first media revolution was the invention of writing, the second was the invention of the printing press, and the third revolution is referred to as the electronic information revolution. All of them have had significant consequences on the way we live today. Furthermore, they have occurred at an increasingly rapid pace, suggesting that we might already be in the midst of a fourth media revolution.

First and foremost, route navigation systems eliminate the need for people to think about which route to take to reach their destination. When going on vacation, you simply enter the address into your navigation system, press 'OK' on the screen, and you're good to go. Not long ago, you would have needed a bulky road map, and even then, you couldn't be certain if it was up to date. The less people need to think about whether they're heading in the right direction, the more they rely on their route navigation system. If you're on your way to a skiing trip and end up in a meadow, you're more likely to doubt yourself than the navigation system. This lack of awareness also affects your geographical knowledge, as there seems to be no need to know where Haarlem is nowadays. As long as the navigation system knows. However, blind trust in the system also has its advantages: since you have to think less while driving, you can pay more attention to the road, making it safer. One thing is certain, though, route navigation systems have a significant impact on how we think about traffic nowadays.

Secondly, people now control their cars based on the instructions they receive from their navigation systems. If a friendly voice tells you to turn left, you will turn left. If the voice says to make a U-turn, you'll try your best to make a safe U-turn in a busy shopping street. However, the more people drive based on instructions, the less they rely on their intuition. Sometimes, this leads to unfounded choices. Here's a perfect example: a driver from Wassenaar ended up driving onto the ice in Zoetermeer after receiving the instruction "turn right now" from his navigation system. The man took the instruction quite literally and found himself on a slope specifically designed for launching boats. He ended up driving onto the ice without realizing it and sank along with his car. Fortunately, he was unharmed, but he couldn't use his car or navigation system anymore. In other words, people sometimes make choices based on their navigation systems that they wouldn't make otherwise if they were relying on their instincts. However, following that friendly advice also has several benefits. The route generated by the system is the most efficient one, which means you'll arrive at your destination sooner and save fuel. This is not only good for the environment but also for your wallet. In short, from the above story, we can see how much influence route navigation systems have on our behavior in traffic these days.

Thirdly, in the future, route navigation systems will likely become standard equipment in cars. This is similar to how it happened with car radios. In the beginning, car radios were considered a luxury and offered only as an option. Later, in 1935, Fiat included radios as standard equipment in some models. Finally, in '71, Philips introduced the well-known stereo FM, which is still used today. This future standardization will also influence the availability of other media. Why would you broadcast audio advertisements when you can convey the message visually on someone's navigation system? Additionally, traffic signs will probably become unnecessary since everyone can read the speed limit from their screens. Signs displaying "Amsterdam 10 km" will also seem redundant since that information appeared on the screen earlier. Moreover, all driving students nowadays receive lessons with a navigation system, and practical exams involve driving a predefined route. In short, the route navigation system is reshaping our society.

However, there will always be people who choose not to use a navigation system. Some due to driving older cars, while others simply out of conservatism. Yet, considering the growing popularity of the system due to its numerous advantages, I strongly doubt that there will be people in the future who ignore this device. I expect that owning a navigation system will become as commonplace as having a phone or a computer. Furthermore, the financial barrier is being eliminated by the significant price drops in recent years. This trend is expected to continue, making navigation systems accessible to everyone. Nevertheless, there will always be people who prefer a physical map over a digital one. For them, living without a navigation system will probably be akin to living without a phone.

Therefore, the route navigation system has set us on the path of a fourth media revolution. It has not only transformed people's way of thinking but also their behavior in traffic. Moreover, once the system becomes standard equipment in cars, our society will undergo drastic changes.

Thank you for reading!