Would you like to be able to time travel? Well guess what, in a sense, you already are.
Let me explain.
According to M.R. O’Connor, as noted in her book titled “Wayfinding,” just 8% of American mobile phone owners used a navigation application to access maps and find their way in 2008. Just seven years later, in 2014, 81% of mobile phone owners were using them.
Then, in the period between 2010 and 2014, the number of GPS devices doubled from 500 million to 1.1 billion. By 2022 that number is expected to grow to 7 billion.
Soon there will be a GPS device available to every person on earth. And all will depend on it.
In essence, personal satellite navigation devices are fueling a dazzling escalation in human travel. It is an era of hypermobility where most people now have the ability to go where they want when they want. And they can cover distances unimaginable to our ancestors, at speeds that, one hundred years ago, would have been considered time travel.
“What was once an expedition is now a vacation,” O’Connor says, “and a voyage is now a jaunt.”
When the Venetian Marco Polo set off to the East in 1271, it took him four years to reach the empire of Kublai Khan in present-day China. And he wouldn’t see his homeland again for nearly two decades.
In Roman times the farthest one could travel in any journey was 30 or 40 miles by horse. Since the start of the jet age in the 1950s, anybody can now undertake what was once considered a lifetime trip that back then was filled with risk, disaster, starvation or death, but is now, at worst, inconvenient.
Our reach today is miraculous, and our access is unprecedented. And that begs the question: What are we missing thanks to this shrinking of space and time?
Roads are now superhighways, flying on airplanes is now mass travel, locomotives are bullet trains and cars will soon drive themselves. And the question really now is: Is this causing our world to implode?
When I grew up, you knew that the footage you saw on TV was old when it was run in black and white. Since then, footage for subsequent generations is all in color and harder to differentiate.
The decades of the 1920s through the 1980s have long been considered distinctly different and dominated by differing trends and styles. Now, decades are blending together and are much less distinct.
“For thousands of years, human survival depended on the correct interpretation of spatial signals, memory of places, calculation of distances and so forth,” adds O’Connor, “and the human brain had to precisely adapt to handle this kind of spatial information.”
In other words, until recently, at least in historical terms, the vast majority of humans traveled without material maps. Now, that is almost a lost ability.
And that begs another question: Has the speed of technology changed how we not only move through the world, but how we see our place in it?
Ken MacRury is a historian who has traveled extensively with Inuit hunters in the Canadian Arctic and he says that they never get lost.
“Fifteen or twenty years ago, the old Inuit couldn’t believe it when people started getting lost,” he said. “They couldn’t believe that getting lost was possible.”
Now, the question is, are we all lost?
Kevin Holten is a columnist and executive producer of “Special Cowboy Moments” on RFD-TV.