Whither goest thou, America, in thy shiny car at night?


If each successive era has closed an old realm of exploration while opening up another, then what are we to make of the innovations in navigational technologies that have just gotten underway in earnest over the last ten years? The rise of digital mapping and the Global Positioning System (GPS) has seemed to come upon us almost as a matter of course, blended in with the general dawning of the digital age, and on its own relatively unremarked — but it has in a blink ushered in the greatest revolution in navigation since the map and compass. The conception of GPS by the U.S. military began in the 1960s. Satellites with extremely precise onboard clocks constantly send out packets of information containing the time and coordinate at which they were sent; navigation devices here below receive the signal and calculate the transit time and distance. By combining information from several satellites, an accurate and precise coordinate for the navigation device can be calculated. In 1983, a navigational error sent Korean Air Lines Flight 007 into restricted Soviet airspace, where it was shot down, killing all 269 people aboard; subsequently, President Reagan directed that GPS be opened up for civilian use once it had been fully implemented. This occurred in the early 1990s, when a network of satellites was put in place. Just as GPS was coming online, digital mapping applications were coming into widespread use.

more from Ari N. Schulman at The New Atlantis here.