Thanks to her new girlfriend, my mother can knit in peace. Thanks to her new boyfriend, Jack, my sister-in-law Dana doesn’t mind driving to new places.
These friends are their Global Positioning Systems, of course. The ubiquitous talking satellite -programmed devices have made getting lost a thing of the past. And there’s rarely need to ask directions.
Maps, like most printed matter, are going the way of the yellow pages, the milkman, and the post office.
Reading Lane Filler’s essay “Marriage without Maps,” I thought about how the decline in map production, reduced due to rising printing costs and decreased demand, impacts an important skill we learned in grade school: map reading. Finding coordinates, understanding East-West, North-South, locating obscure places in atlases, and using maps to navigate, whether city streets or interstate highways, works the brain in ways listening to a GPS doesn’t.
Now, instead of standing on a street corner, reading a map, or pulling into a gas station to ask directions, we dutifully follow the instructions delivered to us in the accent and gender we select, rendering us less social. The chances of strangers offering assistance become more rare, lessening the opportunities to chat informally about an area with local residents. Instead of asking for restaurant suggestions, we can just type in a request into the GPS.
Growing up, my mother would knit while my father drove. Whenever they got lost, my father would blame the knitting. Now he can blame the GPS, personifying her. They aren’t always perfect.
I’m slow to rely on my smart phone for information. I still use a paper desk calendar, and prefer printed train schedules and movie listings. While I too use the GPS when by myself and happily let the GPS select the route when I’m a passenger so I can knit, I still like referring to the map.
Says Filler: “Good maps are, first off, works of art, colorful and expressive, resonant with the possibilities of places near and far… they allow us to understand the geography of the world, our place in it and how it all fits together.”
There’s nothing like a detailed map to plan a cycling route or explore a city. Sure, we get lost now and then. Sometimes getting lost reveals places and scenery the GPS would never find.