‘I can’t get there because I don’t have a sat nav…’ was the response I got this week when I told someone where a venue was. Gritting my teeth I calmly explained that as far as I was aware for several thousands years people have been finding their way around the world without having to input a postcode and wait for a disembodied voice to guide them. Now this may just be that I have a long term obsession with maps and I can and do spend hours ‘reading’ an atlas, I know I am not alone in this.. I have other map geek friends.. you know who you are…
There is something truly magical for me in looking at a map, and as my friends know well, I am never happier than when planning routes for any mode of transport. I cannot bear not to know where I am and what is around me , I love to know and understand how the area has evolved . When you look at old maps they tell the story of history, politics and social change. My Dad trained as a navigator and topographer in the war and taught me to read a map at a young age so maybe that is where it comes from. Though not a geographer I can still remember the absolute magic of seeing contour lines on a map turn into a two-dimensional representation of the landscape. I expect they do it on computer now and its in 3D.
Don’t get me wrong I am not opposed to Sat Navs, I use map apps and google directions all the time, what really upset me was the realisation that for some, technology is not a tool to enhance life but a substitute for thought. As a result horizons could be limited due to lack of a piece of plastic with a micro chip to show them the way.
The Vikings, Columbus and great explorers and those fabulous cartographers that went forth to get the information which opened up the world didn’t say..’can’t go because no one can tell us the way’ .
When you work out a route on a map you look at the whole picture, you can go the long way round, take a short cut, take the scenic route, take the high road or the low road – you can in the words of Fleetwood Mac ‘Go Your Own Way’ – you have the control and make the decisions, right or wrong, taking responsibility for your actions, just as we do in life.
Maps show how our world has changed and expanded. How sad would it be if we stopped exploring and seeking out new places and experiences because we no longer decide for ourselves how to get from A to B but rely on technology to make the decision for us. After all where does the information in the Sat Nav come from…. that’s right … A Map!