On a recent trip to New York City (NYC) I decided to take a cab from the subway to my friend’s place in Astoria Queens instead of walking, one chilly evening. The driver immediately knew the address, including which side of the street it would be on and how far down the block. He even knew which direction he was traveling in and could point out north, south, east, west. He knew all of this without consulting a map or technology once. I was impressed with his mastery of the streets and told him so.
He replied it was because he had knowledge. For the last 15 years he’d been driving a cab. His early years in the business had forced him to learn how to navigate the labyrinthine ways of Queens, without technology. In the beginning, he explained, he used to have all kinds of maps in his car. When someone gave him an address, he had to locate it on the map and then remember how to get there. Through doing this, he had developed expertise in getting around.
He compared himself to other cab drivers, and people in general, who can only get some where with GPS. They’re lacking knowledge, he said emphatically. They can’t orient themselves and navigate. They don’t know where they are because all they do is follow a dot following a line. They’re not aware of their location.
I’m definitely “directionally-challenged” but I’ve always managed to learned a few tricks about the layout of every city I’ve lived in to help orient and navigate myself through unfamiliar neighborhoods. I use GPS when I need to, but try not to rely on it.
We’re inundated and overwhelmed with information, but somehow we don’t acquire the knowledge to learn anything. We can go around the world with the internet, but yet can’t manage to get around our neighborhood by the information inside our own heads.
Although I love having GPS and maps available, I still make an effort to learn how to get around by memorizing street names and observing landmarks. By identifying patterns and learning basic tips. By studying maps to orient myself and understand my location. It was refreshing for me to have a cab driver that felt the same way.