I've been thinking a lot about maps lately. Have you noticed that you can't find them in gas stations anymore? Now that we are fully in the era of GPS and Siri telling us that in a quarter mile, we need to turn left, hard copy maps are becoming obsolete. I find this extremely depressing.
Before I go on a car trip, I love to spread out a map and get a bird's eye picture of my upcoming journey. I love selecting a route that will be slower but more interesting than the interstate. Who wants to rely on the 4-G network in the middle of nowhere? What happens if Siri decides to take a nap? Then what?
A paper map will never fail you.
Check the glove compartment of your car. If you are over 50, I bet you have a whole pile of maps stuffed in there, representing all the different states you have ever driven through. And then there are those special maps that have received a lot of wear and tear, whose folds are so stressed, they have worn clear through. You can no longer see certain junctions or towns, because they have gotten lost in the crease that is not there anymore.
I love maps. Maybe it's because when I was in elementary school, we had this map-reading series that everyone worked through at his or her own pace. It was akin to the SRA reading resource. Does anyone out there remember that? In the series I am remembering, map skills were presented in booklets and each booklet was associated with a different color. As you mastered each level, you moved up through the color ranks. You started with common, every day colors like red and blue. But then, as the maps got more complex and the questions more nuanced, you moved up to aqua, silver, lavender, and black. You know, like getting a black belt in karate, but in map reading.
Yes. I love maps. And it's not that I shun the convenience of the Internet. I love that Google Earth allows me to see an aerial view of the place in Malawi where I am headed to build the reading garden. I can literally see the trees on the grounds of the Teacher Training College. Come to think of it, that is not a map as much as it is a bird's eye view of reality. Okay, well, how about the map I found on the Facebook page of my guest house in Malawi, showing me the roads I will be traversing in just about a week from now. How cool is that?
GPS is great, but having a map gives context. You can see where you are going in relation to a much larger world. That fact alone makes maps extremely valuable.
My advice to you?
Hang onto your paper maps. As they become obsolete, they may be worth a lot of money one day. In fact, they may themselves become currency. As for digital maps and mapping, beware the dark side. Is it good that our phones can always locate us? Maybe. Maybe not. Here is a poem that I found last weekend at Brigit Rest that speaks to that question.
Dragons Be Here
Once upon a time a map was
a story, a story was a map
and time and space and
history and place were one.
Then boundaries appeared and
with them, exactitude: maps became
clocks, ways of being more and
more certain of the ends of things.
But the world itself is not a map.
Every instant something changes. No
map can be perfect for long. We
had to solve that problem: now
no river can meander, no tree be cut
unmapped. Now, every instant, we
redraw to increasing perfection
a map with no names or stories,
a purposeful map, a map with no
unknowns nor any hesitancies,
a pinpoint map, an omniscient map
that even maps you there
reading these words, even maps
the hairs on your arms as you read
this: inside the tip of each bomb
we are drawing the perfect map.
-- Patricia Monaghan, from Homefront, 2005
Prior to 1960, Malawi was called Nyasaland, and the lake
running along its eastern edge was Lake Nyasa.
Now, it is Lake Malawi.