Historian, you say. Nope, I’m a futurist. At least for the moment. And here’s what I see: the GPS is the next ubiquitous gadget, the toy/tool that everyone will have within five years. And here’s why: with a GPS, you never have to be lost again, never have to ask for directions again (what will the gender stereotypers do?), never have to contend with the anxiety of wondering if you really know where you’re going or where you are.

Three months ago, while visiting my hometown of Cleveland, a friend from graduate school happened to be there as well. Together we drove to a restaurant for a bad meal (f-ing Cleveland), and then he needed to get a gift for the children of his hosts. He said that we’d go to X, a toy store that I’d never heard of in a part of town to which I’d never been. I began sweating, a combination of worry over getting lost and profound host anxiety, because I should have known everything about C-town. He said, seeing my discomfort: “Don’t worry; I’ve got a GPS.” To which I replied: “Why? What are you, planning an invasion or something? Or are you a door-to-door widget salesman? Or just obsessed with the latest latest?” I’m funny, by the way. Anyway, his electronic navigator took us right to where he wanted to go, no muss no fuss. I bought one the next day. From Costco. Which pays its employees a living wage and gives them health care.

And I love my GPS. My five-year-old son calls it, because of the lovely mechanical female voice, my “girlfriend.” And my wife thinks it’s great. Over the summer, I took it with me on a roadtrip to Canada. Ottawa, which otherwise would have seemed overwhelming (nobody, by the way, has ever been overwhelmed by milquetoast Ottawa before), was easily comprehended.

But of course, given my neuroses and scholarly interests, I have to ask: what’s the catch? Technological dependence, I think, along with creeping imperialism. Another electronic doodad just makes me ever more reliant on stuff to keep my head above water. And maps, which have always been part of the imperialist project (see Graham Burnett or Susan Schulten, among others, if you don’t believe me), are now even more so. Using satellites, originally put in place for military purposes, only adds to the sense of dread. Plus there’s the whole surveillance state. This surely makes it easier for The Man to watch me. And keep me down.

More than that, though, I wonder what never getting lost means for people’s perceptions of the non-human world. We already have, because of an incredible array of technologies, an outsized sense of our mastery of nature — sorry enivonrmental history community, but that word is just too convenient to ignore. Steamboats made the Mississippi Valley seem small. Railroads collapsed space and time in the West. Automobilies privatized and democratized these advantages. Air travel has apparently shrunk the globe to the size of a jawbreaker. And the internet means that we’re all the Borg, right? So now what? Not only am I never alone (my trusty cellphone), but I never misplace myself. Unknown locales, which once would have seemed daunting, reminding me of my insignificance in a world much bigger and more labyrinthine than I could ever really hope to fathom, now fit inside a little box that I can bring with me anywhere and afix to my dashboard. I can even upload another set of maps so that I don’t get lost in the woods. The epistemological ramifications are pretty breathtaking.

Still, no matter the unintended consequences and looming threats, including having my GPS hector me for missing a turn, it’s only a matter of time until we all own and rely on one. (Seriously, you should buy stock in Garmin/Magellan/Tom Tom now.) Then it’s just a short trip to an increased sense that we really can control nature, along with all manner of pathway dependencies. But at least we’ll be able to get around Ottawa. Or wherever else we find ourselves.