Sunday, November 19, 2017

Adulting Wins to Be Proud Of: Finding Your Friend’s House without GPS

I’m old enough to remember a time when people found their way around solely using maps and/or verbal directions from friends, relatives, neighbors, or randos, which directions invariably got garbled either by the teller or the listener. I’ve also lived in a lot of different places and had to figure out navigational skills that my upbringing in a small Appalachian town didn’t prepare me for, such as interpreting bus schedules, reading subway maps, and remembering the names of streets. So you’d think that I’d have a good sense of direction.

You’d be wrong. People are constantly surprised that, having been to a location one time, the ability to find that location again and again has not been seared into my memory. It probably doesn’t help that, having worked mostly from home for going on the past decade now, I don’t have as much opportunity as others to familiarize myself with the local geography. It’s easy to discount how valuable the experience of simply driving to and from work, the post office, the bank, and the grocery store five or six days a week can be in terms of learning to find your way around town. I had to live in Morgantown for over a year before I could form a reasonably accurate map of the city in my mind.

Even now, I still have to use GPS to find my way around town, even when I’m going someplace I’ve been several times before, such as the vet’s office, where I go every two months to buy skin medicine for Skin Disease, and at least once a year besides to get check-ups and other veterinary care for the cats. My point is, I’ve been going to this vet regularly for a good couple of years and I still struggle to find the office.

And when I have to go out of town, all bets are off. I’m able to go three places out of town without using GPS: my hometown (which I guess technically counts as a lot of places, but whatever), my friend Mark’s place, and my soon-to-be-in-laws’ place. I’d like to blame this phenomenon on distributed cognition, i.e. I used to know lots of phone numbers but now they’re all in my phone, except I can’t, because it isn’t. I was always pretty bad at finding places, and also I didn’t know lots of phone numbers, I wrote most of them down. I only ever memorized my own home phone number, my grandparents’ number, my best friend’s number, and the number of this guy I was in love with who didn’t love me back but strung me along for several years anyway, and I’ve since forgotten two of those, which is just as well because I’m pretty sure those two have been disconnected anyway. My point is that being able to find a place without using GPS is a big deal. I mean, it is for me. Is it for you?