Whatever became of spatial awareness?

Opinion: John Rice

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By John Rice

Columnist / Staff reporter

Not to alarm anyone, but we're losing our spatial awareness. Perhaps you've already noticed. Are people bumping into you more often? Are they blocking your path? Do they cut in front of you as if you're invisible? I've recently been rear-ended twice by shopping carts at a local grocery store. One woman driver didn't apologize until I gave her the nastiest look I could muster. 

So what is causing our decreased awareness and increasing rudeness? There are many factors, with smart phones topping the list of usual suspects.

Some people never developed spatial awareness in the first place. It turns out our childhood activities were good for spatial awareness. Playing outside, hanging out at playgrounds and competing in sports helped our eyesight and coordination. Building model airplanes helped our dexterity. We didn't realize these were healthy activities. We played in the snow because it was fun, not because pediatricians recommended it. 

Today, many kids are not enjoying this level of physical activity. They're not observing their surroundings. They're not using their peripheral vision. Why? Because their faces are glued to screens. Kids spend so much time in the two-dimensional world, they have difficulty navigating the 3-D world.

This should worry parents of young children because they aren't developing crucial skills they will need as adults. I don't blame kids for being hypnotized by images. If iPads and smartphones had been around when I was a kid, I would never have left the house. 

But it's not just kids who are losing their spatial awareness. It's afflicting adults as well. As mentioned previously, much of it is caused by addiction to smart phones. Phones cause adults to loiter in the middle of store aisles, or even in the middle of streets. People don't know or care that they are impeding others. Drivers on smart phones are causing more accidents and close calls on the road. 

Besides being distracted by devices, people are feeling more entitled and less considerate. We used to heighten our spatial awareness when we ventured out in public. We were careful not to bump into people or cut in front of them. We waited until passengers left the train before barging onto it. The same went for elevators. This concern for fellow humans is disappearing. 

Even our ability to get around is being impaired. GPS is a godsend but when we arrive at our destination, we have no clue how we got there. Back in the day, maps showed us our location and destination so we could plan our route. We discovered landmarks along the way to help on the return trip. Now we don't know our directions or how to use a map. We even lack the spatial awareness to parallel-park.

During adolescence, we all temporarily lost our spatial awareness. Sudden growth spurts made us clumsy. We hardly knew how to control our gangly limbs. Now we have adults who have trouble controlling their limbs. And it's only going to get worse because our spatial awareness decreases as we age. Witness the senior citizen tooling along at 10 mph.   

I don't know what we can do to reverse this decline in spatial awareness, but I did learn that women have poorer spatial awareness than men. Possibly they don't need it as much. I was quizzing my wife about increasing cluelessness and rudeness in public. She hasn't witnessed any of it and, if she has, it doesn't bother her. Just as she was saying this, a group of kids suddenly crossed in front of us, forcing me to brake. The crabby old man inside of me wanted to loudly lecture them about spatial awareness. John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries. Jrice1038@aol.com

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