Most of us use the same routine when we travel. We plug an address into the GPS and follow directions. It's quick, easy, and, for the most part, effective.
There's no doubt that the GPS is handy, especially when driving, but are we losing something essential when we depend too much on electronic screen? The answer is Yes, and here's why:
The GPS, for all it remarkable capabilities, only offers a narrow viewpoint with only one objective--traveling from point A to point B.
A traditional map, on the other hand, opens up the world. It invites us to imagine a landscape, to picture its shapes and landmarks. Like old treasure maps, traditional maps show us possibilities and stir our imagination. We see lakes, back roads, parks, and rivers. The GPS, in contrast, is so hyper-focused on showing us where we are, it fails to inspire us to consider where we'd rather be. Most importantly, there's nothing to love about a journey guided by a GPS. It leaves no lasting impression, no memories, and no longing to return.
Remember how your grandfather always knew which direction was north? In a pinch, that man could have found his way out of trouble. Could you?
If we depend too much on a GPS, we become passive and to a certain degree, even helpless. Because a GPS tells us what to do, we become followers rather than thinkers. As a result, we don't engage our eyes and mind with a GPS in a way that forms memories and builds knowledge.
A traditional map, on the other hand, doesn't tell us where to go. It is decidedly neutral. It provides information that we have to interpret. As a result, we remain independent and in control. We engage with and process a landscape in a way that forces us to remember landmarks and value our sense of direction. In turn, we learn to navigate a particular place. We understand where we stand and what it takes to get where we want to go. By extension, we become more capable at navigating a larger world.
So it's not time to throw away your old paper maps. While the GPS is excellent when it comes to showing us the fastest route to a restaurant or a soccer field, it falls far short in a number of fundamental areas.
The adventures of Marco Polo and Magellan were no doubt inspired by maps and some of your adventures should be too. Who knows where you'll end up if you spend some quality time with Rand McNally. Also, never forget that electronic devices can fail and batteries can die but a paper map--as long as you can figure out how to fold the damn thing up--will never let you down.