Thursday, April 24, 2014

I Love Maps

     I have a GPS in my car. I use it occasionally. Once or twice it has saved me when I was completely lost. But it has also given me bad advice, like the time I was somewhere in New Jersey, and the GPS insisted I was in The Bronx; and the time I was driving through Pennsylvania, and the GPS insisted I was in New Jersey.

     But I love maps (as you can see from the background graphic on my blog). I know, right away that marks me as an old fogey. Most Millennials wouldn't be caught dead with a paper map in their hands. They rely solely and completely on the GPS.

     But what a GPS doesn't give you is context. And the problem with Millennials is that they don't know where they're going ... or what they're doing.

     I remember when I began to teach my daughter how to drive. She was 16 years old, and we had lived in the same house for her entire life. I had her drive around our neighborhood a few times; then I decided she was ready to venture into town, less than two miles away. So my daughter navigated the car out to the intersection with the main road, and then she stopped at the stop sign. We sat there in the car for a minute.

     "It's okay," I told her. "You can go now."

     She looked to the right, and looked to the left. I thought she was checking for traffic. But there was no traffic.

     "You can go now," I said again.

     Then she looked at me. "Which way do I turn?"

     "Right!" I said. "Turn right!"

     She made the turn, and we got to town, at which point I asked her: "Really, you didn't know which way to turn? You've been living here for 16 years, and you don't know how to get to town?"

     "Well," she said defensively. "Why should I? Someone else has always been driving. I've never had to pay attention."

     A couple of years later, as a senior in high school, she got her senior license which meant she could drive after dark, so she could start driving herself to the aquatic center where her team practiced. Now, I admit, this was a more challenging voyage than getting to town. The pool was about 15 miles away and involved making as many as a dozen turns.

     But again, she had no idea how to drive there, even though by that time she'd been there probably 200 times. I gave her detailed, explicit directions, and she did make the trip successfully. Afterward, I asked her how she visualized driving to the swimming pool. "Do you kind of see a map in your mind, and follow the map?" I said. "Or do you think in terms of written directions -- turn right here, then left there?"

     And she said, "I don't see a map. I memorize the directions."

     Later I asked one of her friends on the team. The friend saw what I see -- a map in her head. She could picture where she was going, and so she never got lost.

      So, I hope you understand why it's better to have a map -- a hard copy in front of you, and a visual copy in your head. Then you know where you are. You can see the context. You can picture where you're going. And if you do get lost, you know where you are in relation to the rest of the world, and you can find your way back on track.

     But these kids, with their GPS, they just don't have to know anything. All they need is an address; they enter the street number; and the GPS takes them there. But in the meantime, they have no idea where they are, and no idea where they're going.

     It all started with cellphones ... which is a kind of GPS for time instead of distance. Why do you need to make plans when you have a cellphone? You want to meet someone? You just go wherever you're going, whenever you want, and if you decide to meet someone you just give them a call. Or a text. Oh, don't get me started on texting!

     Now, I know a lot of you use a GPS. And of course we all use cellphones and many of us text (I text because it's the only way I can communicate with my children). But come on, help me out here. Someone has to keep up standards!


Denise said...

I will not have a GPS. I borrowed my sister-in-law's years ago to go from their house to my high school buddy about 30 minutes away. I put in "shortest distance" instead of "fastest distance" and I was on unpaved roads in northern Georgia. We laughed about it, but give me my map. I had an Android with a GPS in it which saved us a couple of times, but my iPhone has Google maps and I just use that when necessary. I need that "map in my head!"

Douglas said...

That "insistence" of the GPS to misplace us even happens, sometimes, on the golf course. But, like you, I am "old school" and prefer a map on paper.

Olga Hebert said...

You are absolutely 100% correct. A map is the best bet, and one in your head--all the better. That makes it better than best, but you know what I mean.

Retired English Teacher said...

I hear ya. My husband always has to use the GPS. It drives me bonkers. I think using a GPS sets one up for dementia. We have to use our recall, visualize the route, and know how to think of an alternative route on our own if necessary, in order to keep our brains active. Problem solving is good. It should be done every time we drive. I love to read maps too. My kids, and they are in their 30s and 40s don't even own maps.

Stephen Hayes said...

I have a terrible sense of direction and need all the help I can get. I like my GPS but tend to rely more on maps.

JB said...

I love maps, but I also use my GPS all the time. I've always had a pretty good sense of where I am and a map certainly gives me that big picture but that said I like the detail that a GPS can give me. That and the fact that when we are riding far from the road the background map on my handheld GPS can be handy.

DJan said...

I tend to go to the same places over and over. Once I know how to get there, I don't need a map or GPS. But I have to say how convenient Siri is when I want to go to a new place! :-)

#1Nana said...

Last time I bought a car I opted to not buy the GPS. I live in a small town...there aren't that many streets! However, it would be handy for mapping out yard sales.

Tabor said...

We use our GPS a lot, but we also take the directions with a grain of salt, knowing it can sometimes be very wrong. It does try to take us through the heart of busy sections instead of a faster way around. My eyesight does not work well on maps as I have aged, so the GPS is important.

Anonymous said...

I don't have a GPS. When I need to go to somewhere new, I google for directions street by street. Maps are useless.

Anonymous said...

Since I never had any driving lessons, walked or took a public bus everywhere I know how to use a map, I read them and learn them and can remember where I am where I am going and what we are to do there..GPS we did not have it installed at all, we use maps and I call when we are going long distances to visit childhood friends and we find their homes and the campground just fine..Maps are an invaluable tool, but the young kids today don't even know what a rotary dial phone or a party line is so they don't really know what a map is either, I think they missed out and miss out on a lot of valuable tools in which to navigate life! just must be my opinion..I learned cursive in school and also got to take home-economics all 4 years in high school to boot, it bode me well, in catholic school to me it seemed all about sin, hell and damnation and Latin..Did not use any of that but home-ec as it was called helped me to live on my own at barely 18 years of age, work and get to & from colleges and have a great life!!!!!!!!!!!1

Hauola said...

GPS, and the benefits, is a sign of the technology times we as boomers are navigating for the most part. I find maps are valuable when the driving consists mostly of finding your way throughout the countryside, with rural and long stretches of interstate and turnpike driving. The GPS is handy and helpful in making the varying sized metropolitan areas less intimidating. Solo driving with a GPS in a metropolitan area is a sanity saver. I have yet to master the multi-tasking feat of holding onto the steering wheel, catching the applicable signs in time, paying attention to arrowed lanes in the vicinity of traffic lights, one way streets which many metropolitan areas utilize, watching for pedestrians, bicycles and buses and glancing at a map while doing all of the aforementioned. Not without sweaty palms! Last fall my companero and I were in B.C. Canada on a one week road trip and shortly after our return home a GPS was purchased. During our metropolitan Vancouver explorations I drove and one of the direction phrases offered to me was, "turn there". At moments like that I knew a GPS was in the stars for me! I am glad I know how to read maps, there is a certain comfort in having them, and I am enthusiastically open to all possibilities of GPS.

Jan Carpman said...

Great blog post!

It's important to understand that when people choose to rely on a GPS device, it's not always just a generational difference - some people are truly directionally challenged and unable to form a "cognitive map" or make sense of a paper map.

Everyone can learn the skills they need to navigate independently, but it takes considerable time, effort, and attention.

We, as a society, don't do a good job of teaching our kids how to navigate, so when they get behind the wheel for the first time, it's a shock (to them and their parents) that they don't know how to find their way.

If you want to know more about directional challenges and how to overcome them, take a look at my book (with Myron Grant), "Directional Sense: How to Find Your Way Around".

Thanks for bringing up this important topic!

Jan Carpman, PhD
Carpman Grant Associates, Wayfinding Consultants,
Ann Arbor, MI

Dick Klade said...

I like to use a map and GPS. My only real problems navigating happen when I forget to use the third tool--my head. The last time I forget to bring an appropriate map and ignored the GPS directions we were well on the way to Toronto before I realized our Detroit destination was in the opposite direction.

Anonymous said...

As part of my job, I worked with maps for over 30 years. This much I learned...they are not static. Nothing, whether on paper,google, GPS,or anywhere else is completely current. Maps on the East Coast are the worst because the population density. Redistributing, boundary changes, road construction and other factors can drive one mad.

I worked on the local access and transport maps for the big Bell breakup ( the result of decisions by stupid Democrats, I might add) and can tell you that it was a nightmare.

If you think street networks are a mess, you should take a gander at telecommunications networks. The only thing more complicated is the circulatory system in the human body.

Anonymous said...

My car (4 weeks old) has a GPS - only because it was already there. I don't need no stinkin' GPS, nor do I (in general) need a map. An old friend is afraid to drive from Wichita to Tulsa. I tell her to drive south on I-35 and follow the road signs. The signage is so good these days that getting from place to place is no big deal. What gets challenging is the way city streets do strange things.

BTW: Just to check it out, I tried my new GPS in getting home from a meeting in a city about 1.5 hours' drive from home - in which I had never driven. The darned thing had me on squirrel paths - twisty-turny-single-lane road just to get out of the strange town. My husband, who drove his own car home from the same place, the next day said that his GPS kept him on the main streets that each of us had used to drive TO the place. Both cars are the same brand and only 1 model-year apart. My saleswoman shrugged to say, "Go figure!"
Cop Car

Anonymous said...

P.S. The same old friend (mentioned above) was aghast to learn that I had taken nary a map (nor a GPS) with me in driving to a funeral, alone, in August 2012 - a total distance of just under 3000 miles. Each driver is different is the "news" we should know by now.

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of the 67 year old woman from Belgium who relied on a GPS to take her to another city to pick up a friend. 900 miles later she wound up in Croatia