Profs iPhone Mapping App Offers the Road Less Traveled

The Wired blog at the Chronicle of Higher Ed has a piece on a Mark Shepard, a Prof of Architecture and Media Studies at the Univ of Buffalo. Shepard’s has created a mapping application called Serendipitor. The app provides directions that take ‘alternative routes’ and calls for the user to engage with their surroundings along the way. From Travis Kaya of the Wired blog at the Chron:

Rather than finding the shortest route between two points, the Google Maps-enable iPhone application generates a circuitous trip plan that actually encourages users to get lost along the way. The app also includes suggestions for activities—like sitting under a tree or befriending a neighborhood dog—that are meant to free urban dwellers from the monotony of their daily commute.

“The more we rely on GPS, the less we develop a consciousness of what happens between Point A and Point B,” said Mark Shepard, an assistant professor of architecture and media studies at the University of Buffalo who designed the app.

Unlike similar location-based apps like SCVNGR and Foursquare, Serendipitor does not reward users with badges or prizes when they have made it to their destination. For Serendipitor users, the trip is the reward. “This is much more focused on reorienting your attention back to your physical location,” Mr. Shepard said. “It’s not really about a social network.”

I find this pretty interesting and am excited to see how this idea will grow. BTW, having people like Mark Shepard all around a campus is one of the reasons that the campus has become the frontier for entrepreneurship.

While Serendipitor can be viewed as a frivolous, interactive game, you can see from Shepard’s comments that the mission is to combat the growing distance between us and our environment that is created as we blindly follow to our navigation systems or retreat into iPods, smart phones, and iPads.

When lost, we longer stop at gas stations asking for directions — we check our Garmin or droid phone. In the old days, when we received directions from a man on the street or a gas station attendant, we would be told to something like: “Take a left turn a mile up the road when you see Ted’s Turtle Emporium. Then you’ll be on Green Street and the house you are looking for is just past the sign for Auntie Taylor’s Original Pancake Kitchen.” That type of interaction has disappeared from many people’s lives, including mine. Is this bad? Good? Does it matter? This are surely the types of things that Shepard thinks about.

Check out Serendipitor and then next time you have a little extra time to get somewhere, see where it takes you. You might end up talking to a Hot Dog vendor or a dog walker picking up poop, but you will engage with your surroundings.

Professor’s iPhone App Gets Users Off the Beaten Path – Wired Campus – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

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