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Smartphones and the Uncertain Future of 'Spatial Thinking'

Navigation apps are transforming the way we experience urban environments, for better and for worse.
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Like most New Yorkers, I spend an inordinate amount of time in transit. I have an unlimited Metrocard and a Citi Bike key, two bicycles and a motorcycle, and a dozen pairs of shoes. Proper wayfinding is my lifelong neurosis, as if a personal score could be tallied from the 10,000 rounds of Navigation I've played against the city.

But I've lately undergone a crisis of confidence: I find it hard to hit the road without consulting my phone. And while I'd like to think the recommended route (from Google, Waze, Hopstop, etc.) is just one influence among many—that I have other preferences their algorithms can't perceive—I'm not too proud to confess that I trust the computer more than I trust myself. The habits, hubris, and quirky predilections that once manipulated my movements are being replaced by the judgments of artificial intelligence.