Pinpoint: How GPS Is Changing Technology, Culture, and Our Minds

It’s a rare technology that becomes so pervasive and ubiquitous that for many people it becomes a necessary entity. Over the last decade, GPS is one of those technologies.

In Pinpoint: How GPS Is Changing Technology, Culture, and Our Minds (W.W. Norton & Company ISBN 0393089126), author Greg Milner has written a highly engaging and fascinating book on the story of GPS.


More than just an embellishment of a Wikipedia entry on the topic, the book covers a wide variety of fascinating subjects connected to GPS. Matters from Polynesian navigation, precision agriculture, seismology all the way to meteorology and much more are detailed as to how they relate to navigation and GPS.  

Chapter 5, where Milner details the new phenomenon known as death by GPS, is particularly interesting. Death by GPS is where GPS users lose cognitive ability, become disengaged from the road, and end up crashing or losing their way—ending in death. With all of the benefits that GPS affords, its meteoric rise into use means that we are now just beginning to take stock of how GPS can affect a person's cognitive map.

Milner writes that a study at Cornell University looked at the effect GPS use had on drivers and reached the conclusion that GPS has eliminated much of the need to pay attention. Sadly, that disengagement can result in tragic consequences.

Rather than just focusing on the satellites and underlying technology that makes GPS work, Milner goes behind the scenes and details the people and organizations that created GPS. While the benefits of GPS are astounding and revolutionary, Milner writes that it was not always such an easy sell. The creators of GPS had to deal with military and government bureaucracies, in which the GPS project came close to being cancelled on many occasions.

The only quibble I have with the book is that on a number of occasions, Milner uses acronyms without defining what they mean.

While most people use GPS via their smartphones or portable GPS devices, it’s also embedded in many areas and technologies that deal with nearly every aspect of daily living. In Pinpoint: How GPS Is Changing Technology, Culture, and Our Minds, Greg Milner has written an interesting book about one of the most important technologies of recent times.


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