Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sorry, we're closed

Did you know that all the museums and archaeological sites in Athens close at 3 pm? I imagined that we will have plenty of time to go and see the sights, but so far I have managed to see Acropolis from the roof terrace of our hotel, the National Archaeological Museum from the outside (contrary to the information in the tourist guide for February and March 2009 they are not open till 7.30 pm except on Mondays) and the temple of Zeus from behind a fence. The new Acropolis Museum (to be opened in March 2009) is not open to the public yet - but if it were, it certainly would be closed at 3 pm.

Monday, March 30, 2009


I'm in Athens then, in the Nordic PhD seminar for landscape archaeology. The flight was a bit rough from Paris onwards, because there was a lot of turbulence. I never get seasick but I nearly got airsick in that container called an aeroplane. Arrival made the suffering worthwhile, though. Our hotel is in a nice location close to the Akropolis and the Scandinavian Institutes. The weather is balmy. Food, wine and entertaining company are ready at reach.

The most unlikely thing happened: I had agreed to meet three other people at the airport, to share a taxi. While driving at a dangerous speed (considering none of us had our seatbelts fastened) towards the city, it turned out that all the three of us on the backseat had taken masters in landscape archaeology at the University of Leicester! Call that a coincidence!

Monday, March 23, 2009

On navigators and perceiving the world

We got a navigator for our car last Christmas. Some time ago I used it for the first time when I had to find to a place in Kirkkonummi. The logic of the navigator takes some getting used to, so of course I took a wrong turn. There is something extremely annoying about a calm male voice telling you to make a U-turn when you a driving on a road where it is not an option. So after a while I found myself screaming back at the navigator as if it were a live person. (Although no real person, and surely no male I know, would have so admirably maintained their calm in that situation.) Silly, I know - it is a machine! But any computer user surely knows that sometimes you just find it helps to vent your feelings by cursing at the dumb machine.

I have been wondering, how things like navigators will change our way of perceiving our surroundings in the long run. Traditionally people have oriented themselves using landmarks, and in most parts of the world this is still the method of finding your way. The obsession with maps is a western thing. For example, if you take a taxi in Amman, you'd better know some handy landmark near the location you're going to, otherwise it might get tricky. The streets do have names, but nobody knows them. And if you show a map to your taxi driver you are just going to make him very confused. Even we westerners don't as a rule need a map to negotiate our daily lives - we know where everything is, through experience. That is the way people normally perceive the world - not as maps or street names, but as places and relationships between them.

What will happen, when we increasingly start to rely on navigators and similar appliances to describe the world for us? Will these useful gadgets actually make us dumber when we need no longer pay attention to our surroundings to orientate? I have already noticed that following the little arrows on the navigator screen and listening to the soothing voice giving you driving instructions means you pay little attention to where you actually are. The perceived world is substituted by the virtual reality of the map on the navigator screen. And even if we don't end up in a situation where we are unable to find our way home from work without our electronic little helpers, I think we are certainly going to miss much when we hand over our perception to these machines.