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Which is More Confusing: Initial Wayfinding or Wayfinding Revisited?

Posted by on Jan 31, 2016 in cognitive maps, disorientation, getting lost, maps, navigation, subways, transit maps | 0 comments

Which is More Confusing: Initial Wayfinding or Wayfinding Revisited?

Which do you find more confusing: going to a place you’ve never visited before or going to a place you once knew well, but that has changed significantly?

In an opinion piece in The New York Times, “London Lost and Found,” Mahesh Rao describes his literal and figurative confusion as he revisits London once or twice a year after he moved from there to India in 2008.

As a visitor he looks more intently and sees small sights he missed when he was a resident. Rather than taking things for granted, such as unusual street names (“Birdcage Walk”), he wonders about them now.

But his more out-of-character, even disturbing experiences revolve around simply not knowing which way to go:

“I step off the pavement. I step back on to it. I look in every direction, at the street names, at the awning over a restaurant, at a sign above a theater’s stage door. There is a remembered flash of neon and a suggestion of a well-worn shortcut down an alley. But then my mind goes blank, and I realize I no longer know which road to take.”

Rao quotes from Henry James, “It is a kind of humiliation in a great city not to know where you are going.” “But how much more humiliating,” Rao realizes, “when it’s a city that you once roamed, sometimes in a frenzied rush, sometimes in a slow haze, but almost always with a sense of possession.”

Even London’s underground system, the Tube, is newly, and frustratingly unfamiliar to him:

“Most jarring, I’ve lost my old relationship with the map of the Tube. Its lineations, loops and hard angles had always seemed to provide as recognizable a connection as the grooves on my palms. The progression of stations, the interchanges, the locus of destinations — none of these required thought: I had internalized them. But on my last visit, as commuters surged around me at Westminster station, I could no longer quite remember what “eastbound” meant, and as I stood in front of the giant map in the ticket hall for a few seconds, the lights seemed to dim.”


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