How Things Work: Your Digital Trail – GPS

Read at my new site http://www.mapsandrubies.com/2012/05/!

We are a case study. The past 70,000 years of civilization were the control and now we’re the experiment, the uncontrolled, the chaotic. We are the first humans to live our lives spread out over two dimensions, it’s digital string theory, it’s Fringe – only Walternate is made up of pixels and controlled by keystrokes. The digital trail is inevitable, and, in fact, necessary to living successfully in the 21st century. How we can gain agency over this phenomenon is the real question. Most of these technologies you’ve heard of, but below is how they work and the hidden dangers that come free with purchase.

The GPS

This little guy first came about in mainstream gadgetry as the Satellite Navigation in cars. By bouncing a signal off some orbiting dishes we can triangulate our position and furthermore, use a computer to apply this position to a map. We’ve all grown a bit weary of this technology. Yes, I use Maps about once a week but it leads me wrong just as often as it get me to my destination. Who hasn’t been in the car when the robotic voice suggests you drive the wrong way on a one-way street or tells you to turn around with such panic you’re almost sure there’s a masked villain in the back seat, maybe a hook in the door. While SatNav has its ups and downs it’s the new developments that have really got us scared.

GPS Tracking

Every cell phone is equipped with a GPS tracker. In your settings you can turn this off in 1 or 2 capacities. One, disallowing other people to search for your phone (usually comes turned off as it is most used for children, and I would recommend keeping it off) and Two, the police tracker (which comes switched on and I would recommend keeping it this way). These are safety features so if you call 911 they can find you without wasting time triangulating your signal off cell towers (which takes time and I think they need permission) and the idea of strapping a cell to a kid and knowing exactly which shoe rack he’s hiding in is probably pretty appealing to parents. For everyone who balked at the idea of having their mother or friends be able to geo-locate them instantly, this is for you. When you log in on social networking (think Foursquare) sites you leave your self open for to having “friends” pop in on you and more worrisome, strangers use this information against you.

Geotagging

There is a new section in user manuals and this discusses geo-tagging features on your camera, phone, iPad – really anything with a GPS activated computer that takes a picture. This needs to be turned off internally within the device. If you load your pictures on Facebook and they do not get “mapped” this does not mean your geo-tagging is non-existent. Within the metadata of the photograph may be technical information (quite literally your longitude and latitude) on where you live. This is especially dangerous for bloggers who take a quick snap shot of their new shoes and do not realize they’ve just Tweeted their location. If you plan on broadcasting photographs I’d suggest taking it to your phone provider and having them de-activate everything. My phone and camera do not have GPS capabilities and I still worry about this. Moblogging, or blogging with the intention of sharing your geotag, turns this threat into a “cool” trick. As the internet expands and accessability is everywhere the idea of blogging from the great wall of China is pretty alluring.

Wearables

The new tablet watch is being lauded as the next big thing and we already have internet enabled MP3s and running watches. In fact, they even sell GPS enabled running shoes. As much as this appeals (and was actually a life saving device on a recent episode of Breakout Kings which my classmates and I thought was hysterical because we’re always saying they’re dangerous) it freaks me out. My mother always told me not to take the same route home from school, or make your schedule too predictable. Now we’re recording it and loading it online, furthermore we’re sharing it as a great running route!

These are the new urban legends that keep me up at night – half from wondering if there’s a blogger in my closet, half wondering how much the new tablet will cost. Stay safe and happy blogging!

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