Telling stories

Someday You’ll Wish You Had That Old Map

Posted by southwrite on June 10, 2014

Girl with Map

I’ve always had something of a love hate relationship with maps.


They’re essential as the guide for getting you where you need to go. Once the glove compartment if my car was filled with real paper maps – neatly folded down to a size that was easy to carry and store. Each one represented states and sometimes cities that I had been or wanted to go.


These maps took me into big cities and to small out of the way towns. Maps helped to find my way to the tiny town of Blackshear near Waycross in South Georgia for my very first job as news editor of the local weekly. They guided me to other places, jobs and people.


After a time the neat creases were replaced with a awkward and sometimes diagonal folds that eventually split and became tears as the map eventually came apart completely.


If I was traveling out of state that requires putting two maps together to see where the roads met. It meant putting aside one map and trusting in another.


Back then – before MapQuest or GPS – maps were a tool that required work and thought from their user. You had to plan the trip, look at the route and figure out how to get there. You had a pay attention the entire way as you looked for road signs and one didn’t appear turn around and try to find it.


Eventually computers, the Web and satellites changed all that – thanks largely to the military and their needs.


You could print out a route complete with turns and colorful maps of the route. The program seemed to say “trust me” I’ll get you there.


But sometimes it lied. I remember one trip to a small town outside Toledo. We were meeting an aging alumnus of the college we worked for to record an interview. Before leaving I had printed a set of turn by turn directions from MapQuest to ensure we could find our way. Leaving the airport in a rental car we carefully followed each turn on the long print out until we were realized that we weren’t getting any closer to our destination. We were lost.


That was my first inkling that this shiny new technology did not always work in my favor. I still needed to take responsibility for where I was going and how I was to get there.


I couldn’t blame the program because there at the bottom of the page was this warning: For planning purposes only. In other words look at a real map before you go.

Maps are the tool that made travel possible for those of us who aren’t trail blazers or have no sense of direction. With each evolution of technology the map has taken us further and further away from responsibility for ourselves and our travel.


We type an address into an iPhone and expect that it will take us where we want to go. When it works we arrive safe, happy and without really having to think about where we were going or where we had been. When they don’t – the satellite or phone provider fails – we’re lost.


And when that happens, the mocking disclaimer is still there. And, you wish in that moment that you had a map.


One Response to “Someday You’ll Wish You Had That Old Map”

  1. Nice post! Now I don’t feel so guilty about saving a box of maps. If we went only by GPS, we’d miss most of a great journey.

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