Maps have been around a lot longer than the United States Department of Defense Global Positioning System (GPS). The science of cartography, map-making, goes back thousands of years but anyone can make a map where “X” marks the spot.
Map reading may someday become a lost art, especially for people born in the 1990s and later. GPS is a bit older than that, but commercial products didn’t start appearing until after the Persian Gulf War of 1991. I was a part of that war and it was the first time I saw GPS devices being used by the military to get around in the Sahara Desert.
Most people are familiar with Google Maps but if I’m not mistaken, MapQuest was first. It’s the first online map service I can remember using.
The online map services have the same faults as GPS and it could be because some of the data they use comes from GPS. I’m just guessing, of course. If you ask for driving directions and depending on the service, you can get results that seem to come straight out of a 1970s video game: “You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike.” Sometimes a few straight lines, even if the distance is greater, is better than turning left and right a bunch of times. Think of expressways and you can understand where I’m coming from.
It happens, though, and it’s usually because the maps are wrong. Or vague. I once got lost looking for an address in North Carolina. The street address was a building. Good luck finding it on any of the local maps. If it hadn’t been for flagging down a police officer, I never would have found it.
I once listened to some back-seat drivers while I was on a trip to Los Angeles. They were using a portable GPS device. I knew what route to take but they swore the GPS device had a different route to take. They were so annoying, I missed my exit and I had to drive an extra 20 miles to get on track again. Reading signs is way easier than trying to follow GPS directions.
Even though most of the world has already been mapped in one way or another, there are still areas where maps can’t be made. The middle of a desert without any highways or roads nearby is one example. In fact, that example would probably apply to any place without geographical markers of any kind.
You can still get lost with GPS devices. It may be rarer than getting lost with a map, but I don’t know. I’ve never used a GPS device for anything. It’s said that men are too proud to ask for directions when they don’t know where they are. That isn’t true in my case. I hate to travel any longer than I have to.
By: RT Cunningham
April 7, 2016
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