I like big maps. I cannot lie.
There’s something about a 30-by-40 sheet of paper with a million lines and colors that just begs to be savored.
A real map is a lesson in geography, human history, and politics, a tutorial about where we are and how we got here. Here’s the river bend that drew settlers and here’s the forest that still counts humans as an alien life form. These are the spots the politicians thought important enough to connect with roads and here are the blockades demanded by land owners who wanted a barrier around their properties. Governments have always picked winners and losers. Highways, or lack thereof, are Exhibit A.
The difference between a dot on a screen and a real map is the difference between data and knowledge. When you locate yourself on a screen, you can find out where you are. When you look at a real map, you can find yourself. With a real map, you can discover the road less taken and, as we know, that could make all the difference.
Online maps make us dumber, and there’s no better proof of that than a ride-share trip. I take a dozen ride-shares every month and the experience is always the same. The driver has been carting people around for five or six years and they still have no idea how to get around downtown. There’s a screen in front of the dashboard and a street with signs and actual traffic in front of them, but they only know how to read one of the two. Half my trips involve me asking why the driver is going in the wrong direction, although I know the answer before I bother to ask. It’s what the app says and they don’t know how to find anything IRL.
To be fair, I’ve fallen into the same trap, at least partially. I can’t remember the last time I needed to memorize a phone number, and I’m much more likely to check my phone than step outside when I want to know how warm it is. Yes, I’ll use GPS when it’s the only option, but I recognize this poor substitute for the impostor that it is. I’ll also settle for Jack Daniels when there’s no Maker’s Mark available, but I’ll know I could have done better.
Soon, maybe it has happened already, reading a real map will be a lost art, much like memorizing a phone number and paying with cash. On the upside, I’ll feel like a Jedi, knowing how to redirect the force while those with weak minds must depend on Google Maps, but it’s going to be a loss for the rest of civilization.
Unlike online maps, life doesn’t follow only one path and the closest connection from A to B isn’t always the fastest, or vice versa. Sometimes, the best route is slower and scenic, maximizing enjoyment along the way. Watching yourself as a dot on a screen, tracing a predetermined path like a miniature Pac-Man, is the fate of avatars, not people. Real maps liberate us to see both what is and what could be, to consider all the potential of our physical and allegorical journey.
The smaller your screen, the smaller your world. Full-sized maps can save us, if only we believe.
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Who writes this stuff?
Dadwrites oozes from the warped mind of Michael Rosenbaum, an award-winning author who spends most of his time these days as a start-up business mentor, book coach, photographer and, mostly, a grandfather. All views are his alone, largely due to the fact that he can’t find anyone who agrees with him.