I’m making a bold prediction: in the future the word “lost” will be gone forever. Not lost, because there will be no concept of lost.
Ancient explorers risked their everything charting the unknown. They put the shapes on the map – the squiggly edges we know as continents and countries. They set sail into oblivion and returned with new lands. Now we have Google Earth.
GPS tracking is one of the most mind blowing technologies that I have ever wrapped my head around. In effect there is not one millimetre of earth that cannot be accounted for with a couple of co-ordinate points. The most remote and tangled patch of Amazonian forest or stark and uninhabitated square of outback desert. The tip of a mountain that even the goats can’t reach. We may not be able to get there, but we can pinpoint it on a map.
Before the days of Sat Navs, every car had a beat up street directory in the glove box. The ability to arrive at your destination or be completely lost all came down to the competency of the navigator. I still tremble at the thought of sitting in the passenger seat and someone thrusting a Gregory’s into my hand – “Can you look it up?”. Gulp. Do you want to be completely lost?
I have absolutely no sense of direction. Even with iPhone maps I need to experiment walking in a certain direction to see which way the little blue dot is going. Invariably my dot steers off course and I need to back track in the opposite direction. But as frustrated as I am with myself, I still feel safe knowing that I am the blue dot and as long as the phone keeps its wits about itself, I will never be lost.
Setting aside any questions of privacy or ethics, try to imagine what the world would be like if nothing was ever lost again. If every single item and human and thing had a GPS tracking device inside it, imagine the applications.
Starting with the cliched conundrum of the lost sock. The mystery could be solved forever. There you are, folding your washing, and once again you are left with a random assortment of single socks. A little tap tap on your computer or phone and you have your answer. One sock is behind the washing machine (it must have bounced out while you were loading or unloading the machine). Another is half submerged in the flower bed by the clothes line and yet another is in your top drawer, mismatched with a similar black sock that you folded last week.
A more vital and serious application is the end of the Missing Person. They may be living with a new identity in Brazil, they may be dead in a ditch or wandering the streets with amnesia…but they are not lost. A child who wanders off from a remote campsite can be tracked immediately without the need for search parties.
Of course there are downsides. That wonderful phrase, used in anger and frustration – “Get lost!” – will mean nothing. The concept of anonymity will be compromised and the threat of Big Brother will need to be more closely guarded against.
In George Orwell’s “1984” the Newspeak dictionary is constantly being updated as more and more words are rendered obsolete. One day I believe that the word “lost” as it refers to the dictionary definition “no longer to be found” will be an archaic notion and will only exist as an emotional and poetic concept. While we will still feel loss, nothing will be lost.
When I was around 12 years old, this painting – Lost, by Frederick McCubbin – was my favourite. I bought a postcard print from the Art Gallery and blu-tacked it to my bedroom wall.