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  • Writer's pictureBen Thomas

Literature Review: Pinpoint by Greg Milner

Greg Milner is an American author who has an extensive background in copywriting and editing. Much of his recent focus has been on geospatial issues such as GPS, GIS and other navigational systems. Milner is a different type of author to those I have been previously been reviewing, he is not a psychogeographer, nor is he a surrealist or situationist but rather a scientific or culture writer. This therefore meant that reading Pinpoint was a change of pace for my research and reading – alongside it being a more contemporary piece of writing.

Pinpoint is Milner’s most recent book. Pinpoint: How GPS Is Changing Technology, Culture, and Our Minds – to give the full title - was named a best book of 2016 by Wired, The Financial Times, The Sunday Times, and strategy+business. It tells the story of how GPS - the acronym for Global Positioning System – has changed mankind’s culture, technology, brains and overall outlook on the world. Pinpoint starts by telling the reader of how GPS began as a military project and steadily shows how it has become - what the U.S. Air Force calls - “the world’s only global utility.”

The book is one of the more current pieces of work I have read for my research and was published in 2016. GPS hasn’t evolved much since 2016, so much of what Milner writes about can still be perceived as current day technology and opinions. The only change from 2016 to 2019 - which Milner indeed mentions - is that sheer large number of devices using GPS has more than doubled. Of course, GPS is a more recent phenomenon than many of the other areas I have been reading about. It was introduced around 50 years ago and has become a well-used tool by the public in the last 20 years because of the rapid introduction and growth of Satnavs and smartphones. This means that most writing about the subject will be recent, especially when the early days of the technology would have been shrouded in mystery because of its military connotations. Because of this topical nature of the book, it introduced a new layer to my reading.

I found when reading the book, it felt as though it comes across as a biography written about GPS. Like a more typical biography about a celebrity or historical figure, Pinpoint starts with the origins of GPS and works through how it has evolved in a chronological manner. However, Milner does go on tangents throughout the work as he touches on other topics to do with guidance and navigation. For example, early in the book the stories of Polynesian navigators and other historical exploration figures such as James Cook are included, giving a background to what navigation was, before delving into what it has progressed into with GPS.

As navigation – alongside exploration - has been a worldwide act in most cultures throughout history, Milner’s book contains stories from most corners of the globe, but the base of his book is most definitely American. Of course, most of my research has been more European related, so alongside Rebecca Solnit’s also American text – Wanderlust (of which I review below), Pinpoint gives my research a more worldwide perspective.

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