The difference between a real map and a GPS system is, a real map shows you where you might go, a GPS tells you where you will go. For all the large advantages GPS systems (okay, let's call them digital maps cause that's what they are) give us, they are at best, perfectly functional taxis. You tell them where you want to go, and they take you there, albiet sometimes with a few side routes and U-turns thrown in.
The accuracy of these systems have certainly improved; you hear less instances of tourists driving into the ocean because a digital map told them to, nowadays. But they're not infallible. Somewhat ironically what I miss most about real maps though, is getting lost. Just not in a "*glub glub* now look there's a fish" kind of a way. I mean meandering off the beaten path, taking side-roads, finding places you never knew existed, simply because you ignored the straight and narrow.
Philosophically, you can say that a digital map on a large enough screen gives you the same advantages as a real-world map does, and that's true - to an extent. But the convenience and habituation with which we immediately swing toward telling the device to plot a course for us, is our undoing in this regard. Be default, we let the machine tell us where to go. By default, we skip the scenic route in favour of the most logical course. We save petrol, probably, but there's a sense of exploration and discovery which is lost in this process. You're just a bullet in a chamber, funnelling from one end to the other.
We can have it both ways, it just takes a little fortitude and mindfulness to break through these habits. Here's an exercise: the next time you're heading to a destination, have a little free time and don't mind the extra miles, take a look at a real map (or a digital one on a large enough screen). Pick a couple of side-roads to head down instead of taking the main course; maybe even a couple of dead-end roads for good measure. If nothing else, it'll break up the tedium of a normally thoroughly-predictable trip. You might even take in a sight or two.
The advantages of digital maps are manifold; petrol savings, traffic prediction and re-routing, as well as second-guessing your 'instincts' about where you should go. But over-reliance on technology always leads to fragility, and what're you going to do next time the grid is down? Pull out a real map, of course.
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