Surprises are Good for us and How Google Maps can help

Engineering surprises to make traveling fun!

Krithi Nalla
4 min readApr 22, 2024

Surprises and Toursim

Over the past few months, I have been fortunate enough to travel to several different countries. Navigating unfamiliar cities and neighborhoods can be challenging for a tourist, and I often rely on maps to find my way around. However, I also enjoy simply looking out the window and taking in the sights and sounds of a new place without constantly having to check my phone or map to figure out where I am and where I should be going next. It would be great to have a way to explore new places without constantly switching between looking at a map and the world around me.

During one of my trips, I was driving in SFO, staring out the window at the endless stretches of highway, twisting and turning, going inside tunnels, and passing by greenery. The scenery started feeling predictable until the greenery disappeared, and the Golden Gate Bridge emerged gracefully. The red shone under the light, the water sparkled, and I felt a simple emotion, perhaps a forgotten emotion — the feeling of Surprise.

Constantly looking at my phone to check where we were and what to see next

I loved the experience of serendipitously coming across the bridge. I didn’t expect to see it that day, but it felt like a scene in a movie where they would reveal the gorgeous landscape after climbing a strenuous mountain. The idea of being surprised comes from a state when your mind is not overcome and overfed with information. It must be a little calm to take in the grandeur and emotion of experiencing a surprise.

Predictability

During my recent trip to Egypt, the grandeur and magnificence of all the buildings, structures, and history were magical. I was blown away by the royalty of it all. But every day, I saw the best of the best: the pyramids, temples, and shrines, and almost after eight days, my brain felt full. I wasn’t blown away; I was nearly expecting it. It felt similar to how my mind was being overstimulated with endless content from the media. It was tiring.

Short form media has a range of effects, but here I am comparing the effect of the “enthusiasm” or stimulation everyday.

Engineering Surprises

Reading about Tania Luna, the co-author of “Surprise: Embrace the Unpredictable and Engineer the Unexpected,” I learned that surprises are a cognitive statistics game. “The more you expect it, the less you’re surprised. The less you expect something, the more you’re surprised.” Sounds obvious enough, but I enjoyed learning that when we are surprised, our brains go into something called the “surprise sequence.”

“It’s a strong neuro-alert that tells us that something is important about this moment, and we have to pay attention,” says Luna. “Our cognitive resources are basically hijacked and pulled into the moment.”

No wonder I loved the feeling. I almost forgot what it was like to be surprised with so many screens around me, and everything playing its own thing kind of media. Tania Luna co-founded Surprise Industries and explores the science of surprises. Luna says it’s also important for people to learn how to orchestrate or engineer surprises.

So, can we engineer some of those surprises in the context of a tourist exploring a new area? What if Google Maps could help us with this, suggesting paths that would “accidentally” bring us to some tourist spots?

During my several months of traveling, this is what I wish existed:

Google Maps identifies local spots and then prompts users if they would like to learn more about them.

What if Google Maps had Tourist Mode?

A setting where we could choose topics of our choice and during our journey we could experience surprises!

Tourist Mode on google maps helps in

  • Challenging predictability fatigue
  • Improving exploration experience
  • Engineering serendipity or surprises
Conceptual Mock of Google Maps Tourist Mode by Krithi Nalla

Links to the videos down below

Disclaimer

I mention Google maps as its the application I use and am familiar with. This can also be applied to other map applications while some applications could already have this feature. Since I use G-Maps, I wanted to write about how it could be catered to a unique community of travelers and learners.

--

--

Krithi Nalla

Designing + imagining human interactions with objects and elements around us