PreRamble: Great article in yesterday’s WSJ on the state of the art and fate of paper maps in the digital era … (Great headline too: “Paper Maps Refuse to Fold“)
I love maps — probably because I am generally navigationally challenged and a nice piece of actual paper that shows me where I’m supposed to be going is always comforting.
I also love “maps” in the broader sense as overview documents that orient audiences to the bigger picture.
As a life-long mappie, I have to come out in support of cartographer Daniel Huffman’s assertion on map-craft,
“Even in an age of mass-produced digital maps, custom cartography still has value … We are craft people and artists and we get hired by people who appreciate that.”
Hear, here … Weren’t maps one of the first chisel-outs wrought by man on the cave wall? Beyond geography, those early maps provided context for complicated concepts (like Earth and sky) and presented a diagram of place and connections.
Like a song or a scent, a crispy, dog-eared paper map can also bring back memories of experiences … An aside:
When I was growing up, my family would take an annual road-trip from our home in Detroit, Michigan to Hilton Head Island, South Carolina (22 hours in the back seat … ). Whenever I see that blue-tone Chamber of Commerce map of the boot-shaped island, I’m routed to a paper-covered table at Hudson’s Seafood, where my parents and I are howling with laughter as my brother (then 9) does his spot-on impression of Ted Baxter from the Mary Tyler Moore Show episode where he has a piece of spinach in his teeth while on the air.
I can see my Dad, gasping for breath, tears running down his face … at my brother doing Ted reading aloud on the air what he thinks is a breaking news note from his producer,
“Ted – you have a piece of spinach or something in your teeth.”
How do I love thee? In his love-fest with the map, cartographer Huffman also suggests that a great paper map “is like a poem.” Love the thought of maps as poetry. Visually, they can certainly be beautiful, and blended with whatever interesting thing is being mapped, they can be downright delightful.
The Take-Away: Maps are important/crucial, multi-faceted, amazing tools. Maps are how we get our heads wrapped around a place or concept. Like magic, a map can orient us to an infinite number of angles on a place — real or imagined; past, present or future. It can cue us to experiences we’ve had, tell us where we are right now, or show us where we might want to go — literally or figuratively — in the future.
And, directionally speaking, there’s nothing like the triple-threat map strategy: 1) peruse print-out paper map; 2) review turn-by-turn written directions; 3) punch in address on phone and watch “blue dot” move through space (if only to confirm that – “Yep, I’m headed the wrong way … “)
PS: For all you tech-snob millennials — Manik Gupta, Director of Google Maps, brings a PRINT-OUT of a Google map when he travels,
“Believe it or not, I actually print it out, so I can share it with a taxi driver.”
… Tech-snob Millennial: “What’s a taxi?”
Photo credit: “Info-map-phic” shown top depicts the fan territories of major league baseball teams – by Josh Katy – pleasing to look at and also statistically interesting.