Simon Kelner: What is technology taking from us?

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The Independent Online

There have been a lot of stories recently about the corrosive nature of modern technology, of how the internet is damaging our brains, and how the instruments of social networking are breeding a generation of people with no attention span and little interest in detail or nuance. Certainly, the image of the modern teenager sitting in front of the television, Facebooking friends on the laptop, and tweeting on the mobile while catching a repeat of Come Dine with Me is rather unnerving for those of us brought up in rather less frenetic times.

According to a report in yesterday's i, a third of the population feel overwhelmed by technology, but I think we are worrying too much. The internet has largely been a force for good – liberating, convenient and democratic – and, far from turning brains into mush, constant on-screen engagement is just as likely to foster more active and agile minds. However, allow me to rail against one facet of technology which is rarely discussed but whose influence I believe to be almost wholly malign.

Satellite navigation systems in cars may appear to be gadgets whose application of science and communication leaves you aghast with wonder. But I believe they are a significant force in disconnecting us from our environment.

Apart from the fact that no one knows how to read a map any more, very few people actually take any notice of how they get where they are going: they just plug in the postcode of the destination and obey the instructions. We don't notice landmarks: we are interested only in what Lady Satnav has to say.

There is also a loss of human engagement: gone are the days when, in an unfamiliar town, we'd stop a local for directions. Turn left at the town hall, then right at the post office and it's just past the Royal Oak. You may say none of this matters. In which case: carry straight on, and in five minutes turn the page. You have reached your destination!

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