Sunday, March 18, 2012

GPS and Map-Reading Skills

Street Photography in NYC

I came across a really interesting article published by the BBC earlier this month regarding the use of sat-navs and GPS navigation and how the proliferation of these technologies is a threat to basic map-reading skills. The article itself talked a lot about how the younger generation doesn’t know how to read basic maps and is, therefore, losing a lot of basic skills and independence.

“Many cannot read a landscape, an ordnance survey map, or find their way to a destination with just a compass, let alone wonder at the amazing role astronomy plays in establishing a precise location,”  the president of the Royal Institute of Navigation (RIN), Roger McKinlay told BBC in the article. “Instead, generations are now growing up utterly dependent on signals and software to find their way around.”

But, is that really a problem?

Perhaps I should back up. I want it clear that I absolutely love the convenience and clear technological advances that GPS and other similar navigation systems provide. They are absolutely invaluable when getting around and can really make things so much simpler.

At the same time, I personally am a huge fan of maps as well. There is just something beautiful about the history of cartography over the ages and something fulfilling about finding your way around with nothing more than a piece of paper and some basic skills. I love maps. In fact, when I’m finding my way between cities I tend to prefer paper maps and written directions to GPS. I save the sat-nav for finding my way around the city.

So, while there are pros and cons to both GPS and map navigation, I can’t help but wonder if such arguments about map-reading skills becoming extinct aren’t simply bred from a fear of change. I mean, honestly, how often will many of these kids really be in a place where they will be forced to read a paper map? Do any of them even know where to GET a paper map in order to try and read it? I mean, is that even a practical skill anymore?

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