The Social Effects of the GPS

Society benefits from this technology in many ways, including safer, more reliable travel and an increase in human safety in a wide range of activities.

Society benefits from this technology in many ways, including safer, more reliable travel and an increase in human safety in a wide range of activities.
     What is GPS? Effects of GPS on Society
     Uses of GPS technology
     Social Effects of GPS technology
     Positive effects of GPS on Society
     Other Effects of GPS on Society
Significance of GPS in society and Alternatives

What is GPS?
The Social Effects of the GPS
The Social Effects of the GPS

 The Global Positioning System is a satellite navigation system.  It is the only system that allows the user to accurately obtain the latitude, longitude and altitude of their position anywhere in the world, at any time of the day [3].  24 satellites broadcast radio signals that can be received by the GPS units on earth.  Signals from at least 3 satellites are converted latitude and longitude information, and a 4th satellite is required for altitude information. 

Development of GPS 

The development of GPS started in the early 1970’s by the US military.  It was not until 1995 that the system became fully operational [4]. GPS is funded by the US Department of Defense, and its satellites which are called ‘Navstars’ [4] are operated by the US Airforce.  President Clinton signed a Presidential Decision Directive on 29th March, 1996 [1] that essentially allowed international use of basic GPS signals, worldwide, free of direct charges to the user.  Since then, civilians have found many uses for this technology in a great variety of fields.  Especially Airline and Marine navigation now rely heavily on this technology.

Effects of GPS on Society 

Uses of GPS technology 
GPS technology can be used in many fields, and people keep finding new strategies applications.  The following is a short list of some uses of GPS: 
  • Ship and Aircraft navigation
  • Mining and Construction
  • Warfare
  • Vehicle tracking
  • Surveying and mapping (both marine and on land)
  • Navigation during tramping and hiking
  • Wildlife surveys
  • Natural resource surveying
  • Monitoring of tectonic plate movement 

Social Effects of GPS technology 

I believe that the social effects of a technology are the ways in which they impact human life and society.  For GPS technology, these impacts can be divided in several categories.   
  • Advancement and development of society
  • Safety and well being of human beings
  • Recreational
  • Economical
  • Military Power
  • Political strategies Power 
GPS itself does not have a great direct impact on society.  It is the applications for GPS that people have found that affect our society.  Each application affects society in several, sometimes unique ways.  It is for this reason that this report includes a brief discussion of the social effects of some of the main applications of GPS.  
It is not always clear if the effect a GPS technology has on society is positive or negative – it depends on the point of view.  I could, however not find any real negative social effects of this technology.

Positive effects of GPS on Society 

I believe that the following applications have mainly positive effects on society.

Ship and Aircraft Navigation 

GPS allows for safer and more reliable ways to travel.  Ships and aircraft are nowadays almost invariably fitted with GPS.  GPS is a reliable and accurate navigation system.  This reduces the likelihood of ships running aground or aircraft crashing into mountains during darkness or bad weather.  This obviously makes it safer for humans to travel.  It also reduces the reliance on good weather conditions for travel.  Furthermore, in the event of an emergency, GPS also allows for the staging of more successful rescue operations. 
Travel is important in human society.  GPS is simply a tool that makes this activity safer and more independent of weather conditions. 
GPS technology aids in the development of our society.  It allows for quicker, cheaper and more accurate construction of more advanced structures. 
GPS can be used to build structures with a high degree of accuracy.  An example of this was the role it played in the construction of the Auckland Sky tower.  It served to ensure that the tower was built straight [1].  GPS technology can also prevent extremely costly errors.  During the construction of the tunnel under the English Channel it was used to ensure that the two teams that started digging from both sides met in the same place [3].  The use of this technology can also increase productivity.  In Northern Brazil, the speed of construction of a new strategies port was aided by GPS, as traditional techniques for determining the exact placement of some 1200 pylons for the pier were ineffective in fog or at night [1]. 
It can be seen from the above arguments that GPS technology can potentially make certain projects economically feasible, and practically possible.  This increases the rate of development in society.

Vehicle Tracking 

The tracking of vehicles by means of GPS receivers has recreational, economical and safety benefits in society.  GPS equipped rental cars can provide tourists with driving instructions to tourist sites, and accommodation.  This can reduce stress levels whilst on vacation.  Truck drivers in the UK are now being made aware of upcoming low bridges using GPS and digital maps [1].  This combined with awareness of traffic jams, and suggestions of alternative routes allows for the cheaper delivery of goods.  Police cars, ambulances and fire trucks are also increasingly being fitted with GPS.  This allows emergency operators to direct the closest units to an emergency, potentially saving lives [3]. 

Other Effects of GPS on Society


GPS has changed warfare.  It greatly contributes to the effectiveness warfare, with its applications ranging from tracking individual soldiers to manufacturing highly accurate missiles.  In the case of missiles, GPS technology aids in an increased chance of hitting the desired target.  GPS also allows for accurate tracking of military units which increases the effectiveness and level of tactical control during combat.  
The effects on society in this case obviously depend on if this technology is being used by or against you.

Control by the United States

At present the United States is completely in control of the Global Positioning System.  This means that they have the ability to switch off GPS in certain areas of the world.  Furthermore, they can control the level of accuracy that is available to the users.  As the world becomes increasingly reliant on GPS, this puts the United States in a very powerful position. 
Following this, it could be argued that GPS contributes to unbalanced levels of political strategies power, which if abused could have adverse effects on society. 

Significance of GPS in society and Alternatives

The significance of a technology in society can be measured by how it has affected society, and by the presence or absence of alternatives.  The main reason why GPS is so important is because at present, there is no successful alternative.  It can also be seen from the previous paragraphs that GPS has significantly impacted society in two main areas: 
  • GPS technology has become an important tool for human safety in a wide range of activities. 
  • GPS has increased the rate of development of society. 

GPS has become an integral part of our society, affecting our lives in many ways.  The great range of applications of this technology has an impact on many aspects of society.   
GPS stands for Global Positioning System, and is a highly reliable satellite navigation system that gives latitude, longitude and altitude information to a high degree of accuracy anywhere in the world.  It was developed for and by the US department of Defence.  It has become widely used since President Clinton declared an international resource in 1996.  There are now many applications for GPS, and some of the main ones include: 
  • Ship and Aircraft navigation
  • Construction
  • Warfare
  • Vehicle tracking 
The most important effects of this technology on society are: 
  • Safer travel, and increase in weather independence
  • Decrease of construction costs
  • Increase in rate of societal development
  • Decrease in transportation costs
  • Increase of efficiency and control of warfare 
GPS is becoming more widely used and more important in society.  It is especially important in the areas of Warfare, and Ship and Aircraft Navigation.  If this technology did not exist or was not as readily available, many achievements in all areas of applications would not have been possible.  The importance of GPS is further stressed by the absence of a successful alternative.


  1. GPS Applications Exchange (2002, September 5 – last update). [Online].
  2. How GPS Receivers work (1998-2002). [Online].
  3. GPS Primer (2002, March 13 – last update). [Online].
  4. Brown, Alison K. (2002). ‘Global Positioning System’ In: World Book Encyclopedia.2002 edition. Vol. 8WORLD BOOK, Chicago, pp 23
  5. Collins, J., Hofmann-Wellenhof, B., Lichtenegger, H. (1992). GPS – Theory and Practice. 3rd revised edition. Springer-Verlag Wien, New York
  6. Kleusberg, A. & Teunissen, P.J.G. (1998). GPS for Geodesy. 2nd edition. Springer, New strategies York

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