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In praise of paper maps
Aug. 24, 2015
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by Ivan Raconteur

I was clearing out some files at the bachelor pad recently, when I ran across a collection of maps.

I acquired these maps on various trips I have taken over the years.

There was a Michigan map I picked up when my brother and I went camping in the Upper Peninsula in Big Two Hearted River country, the site of some of our favorite Hemingway short stories.

There was a map of Seattle from the time I drove cross country to visit some friends who had move there.

A map of Thunder Bay reminded me of a 15th anniversary trip to that city.

There were others, each of them representing a journey, and each conjuring up memories of days gone by.

I have always liked maps.

The really old maps are works of art, and are as beautiful as they are functional.

Newer maps, while not so beautiful, provide an understanding of a place that one doesn’t get from a map on a screen.

A paper map provides a visual representation not just of a place we want to go, but of how that place is connected to other places. It provides context.

I have embraced the new technology. My car has a screen showing where I am, and through voice commands will plot a route to where I want to go.

My phone also has GPS, and can give me walking directions to find a specific place in a large city.

These tools help me get where I want to go, but they don’t help me understand how I got there.

Plotting out a course on a paper map gives one a sense of adventure.

One can make decisions based on a variety of factors, and can alter the route to take in nearby attractions if one chooses.

By seeing how my route fits into the surrounding area, I start to understand the place, and I can find my way around.

If I get off track while using GPS, I need GPS to get back on track, because I may have no idea where I am.

Paper maps are wonderful tools for writers, because they can help us describe a scene, and visualize the area in which a story is taking place.

I can’t do that with a map on my computer screen. It’s just not the same.

Some well-used maps become like old friends. They may have a familiar coffee stain from a previous vacation, or a tear from when they were hastily folded when we were rushing to avoid a coming storm.

Early explorers were not equipped with satellite technology, but they probably had a better understanding of where they were than many modern adventurers.

Paper maps have their limitations, but one will never lose the signal, nor will the batteries die on a paper map.

Despite my affection for paper maps, I tossed my map collection in the recycling bin.

They served their purpose, but the ones I had don’t reflect changes that have occurred over the past decade or more, which can lead to confusion.

That won’t stop me from picking up new maps on future trips. Some habits are too deeply ingrained to give up. There is also something comfortable about paper maps. Even in a strange land, a map gives me security.

There is one concession I have made in recent years, however. If there is a large print version of a map, that’s the one I buy. For some reason, it seems like the printing on maps is getting smaller every year.


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