GPSing for Biologists with Aves and Braggarts with Worldly Trails

Who’s GPS tracking these days? Everybody, because with all the gizmos that now come equipped with GPS capabilities, there’s no way that it’s just the hippy-ish trekkers that are using it. Cell phones, cars, tablets, and even game consoles with internet connectivity are fully outfitted with spiffy GPS features. It’s not just spies that like to keep a record of others’ whereabouts, it’s ordinary people — even the non-nosey — that have taken a liking to sharing the progress of their real-world geographical footprints online. Why? Because it’s kind of fun.

Anyone who’s ever sat in a high school biology class for a few (grueling, if it weren’t for your cute lab partner) semesters knows that scientists have long seen the potential of a GPS tracking system — it’s one of the best, if not the greatest, ways to track the oceanic routes that whales and sea turtles and man-made robotic mini-submarines are wont to take. If you’re still not jiving to it, think about it as a more abstract, or representational, version of the typical vacation snapshot. Your friends who employ this method, instead of saying, “Hey guys, this Saturday marks the first week of my month-long August vacation in Maui,” prefer to turn to giving a slightly cryptic sequence of Facebook updates. The first update will give the geographical coordinates of the airport from which they departed and, over the coming weeks, they’ll post the subsequent coordinates of their sight-seeing itinerary.

Sometimes even the braggers deserve some applause for shining the spotlight on their luck, instead of sinisterly using the technology for the cell phone GPS tracking of ex-lovers and spouses. (Alleged) Shaq attack, anyone?

The point is that they’ll be able to brag about their travels to that far removed state of the Union without alienating too many people on account of their boasts — most people will ignore the numerical coordinates, but the updaters will still get the satisfaction that comes from sharing good news. ‘Tis what a good ole GPS tracking device is good for these days. At least it is for laypersons who do not own rail, road, or marine fleets that demand constant monitoring and tracking.

Sam Walters is a writer living in Los Angeles. Her writing appears in print and online.

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