Over at BLDGBLOG, Geoffrey makes an astute observation about how the latest consumer technologies have a way of becoming metaphors for the mind. Before the brain was a binary code running on three pounds of cellular microchips, it was an impressive calculator, or a camera, or a blank slate. In other words, we’re constantly superimposing the gadgets of the day onto the cortex. Geoffrey notes that a recent article featured on the BBC on fMRI scans of taxicab drivers (“Taxi drivers have brain sat-nav”) is very similar to an earlier study, except that the most recent article used satellite navigation as a metaphor for the spatial memories storied in the hippocampus:
It’s interesting to note, meanwhile, that this appears to be an almost complete retread of news released more than eight years ago. There we learn not only that “the hippocampus is at the front of the brain,” but that it “was examined in Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans on 16 London cabbies.”
Cabbies’ brains, that article reports, “‘grow’ on the job.” However, it’s also interesting to speculate here that “sat-nav” was not referred to by that earlier article because certain technologies – such as dashboard navigation and handheld GPS – simply had not yet reached an adequate price-point, or the required level of social acceptance, for “sat-nav” to be useful to that writer as a metaphor. If this were true, then perhaps you could track the infiltration of GPS and sat-nav technologies into the fabric of everyday life by the speed with which they have become recognizable as urban-spatial metaphors.
Thanks for the tip Phil!