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The Stickiness of Once-familiar Places

Posted by on Jul 14, 2013 in cognitive maps, giving directions, personal navigation | 0 comments

The Stickiness of Once-familiar Places

Have you ever found yourself giving directions like this: “It’s across from where Woolworth’s used to be”?

If you remember locations of often-visited places – department stores, drug stores, schools, apartment buildings , or anywhere familiar and meaningful – whether or not you’re directionally challenged, you may find it disorienting when a personal landmark is torn down and something new takes its place.

Not being able to wrap your head around the fact that the old ___ (fill in the name of your favorite missing landmark) is now something else is more than nostalgia for the good ol’ days.

It seems that our “cognitive maps” – our mental pictures of where meaningful places are located – are less agile than we might want to admit. Once developed, they stick with us and are hard to change.

For instance, you might have known where to pick up all the usual items on your grocery list at your favorite food emporium until they went and moved everything around. Now you’re frustrated that you can’t find the peanut butter and annoyed at having such a fundamental, taken-for-granted part of your life altered without your consent.

It seems even more discombobulating to have a once-familiar place changed (torn down, relocated, replaced, or re-organized) than it is to visit a new place where you don’t know your way around at all. The difference is that you already have experience with the familiar place and expect to be able to navigate it, while you have no experience with the unfamiliar place and realize you have to learn to find your way.

As the pace of change escalates, this is something everyone has to cope with more often than ever before. If you’re directionally challenged, your best bet is to make yourself conscious of the replacement landmark or new layout and use your wayfinding skills to navigate to, around, and out of it, as if it were a new place. Repeated practice will help.

When was the last time you experienced this “Woolworth’s” phenomenon?

Here’s a link to a related article by reporter Heather Ziegler of The Intelligencer: http://www.theintelligencer.net/page/content.detail/id/587456/Mapping-Out-The-Directions.html?nav=509

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If you’re directionally challenged you need the book, Directional Sense: How to Find Your Way Around, by Janet R. Carpman and Myron A. Grant. www.directionalsense.com

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