For a while now I’ve noticed a new driving style in northern Virginia. People who adhere to this style drive all shapes and sizes of vehicles and all of them frequently have a large piece of glowing technology blocking the view from their windshield. Yes, I’m talking about the new style of “driving by GPS”. Proponents of this driving style are easy to spot as they lurch through turns, or speed down the fast lane and suddenly slew through the slow lane to get to an exit when they’ve just been told “Turn left now!”
It appears this dependence on navigational technology isn’t just dangerous to those who find their narrow sidestreets being used as major throughfares due to poor mapping software, it is also dangerous to every single other road user as these people become more and more obsessed with following the electronic voice rather than using their eyes and ears to check the safety of their manouvere. Do they not realise that the GPS does not see or know or care where it is sending you? It is a dumb device running software that is frequently not up to date and is suggesting a route not telling you!
The GPS is just for directions
YOU have to drive the car yourself!
The GPS phenomena has also had an interesting side effect according to these (and other articles):
- Map reading skills ‘dying out due to internet and satnavs’ – The Telegraph
- Online maps ‘wiping out history’ – BBC News
As people rely more and more upon point-to-point directions they have forgotton how to navigate themselves and more worryingly have not realised that the navigational data they recive is minimalist at best and fails to provide additional data such as places of historical interest or visual navigation markers. Even the latest “street view” and “birds eye view” features on Google Maps and Microsoft Live Maps do not provide useful map and navigation information.
This worries me because it means people are missing out on a huge number of experiences that are right on their doorstep. I have noticed over the years that I like to gently explore my surroundings, building up a mental map of the immediate area where I live, and also around the places where I work. In a previous job I’d take a walk almost every lunchtime and discovered shortcuts and oddities that surprised my coworkers who’d lived in the area for many years longer than I. If you can’t read a map you’ll miss the castle hidden just over the hill, or not realise that your commute follows a Roman road through long forgotton deserted villages.
When we go on holiday back to England we always have at least one if not all of the following with us; AA Road Atlas of Great Britain, Ordinance Survey Explorer and Landranger Maps of our local area and of any areas of interest. We can also both read those maps with some confidence, and even when we use the internet for directions to a specific location we tend to then scour the ariel views to piece together visual waypoints in addition to noting down the intersections before and after our destination in case we miss it on the first pass. This has meant that when we’ve planned outings we’ve been able to add extra castles into our itinary by seeing where they were located on the map close to our route, you just can’t do that with Google Maps!
That being said, I know I’m a strange example. I do have copies of the “Manual of Map Reading and Field Sketching 1921” and the “Manual of Map Reading, Photo Reading and Field Sketching 1929” (both published by the British War Office) sat on the bookshelf next to my desk, and have enjoyed reading them and learning how the skills of map making and photo reconissance developed in the early part of the last century. I like to pour over the Ordinance Survey Landranger maps and find places I didn’t know existed in my old stomping grounds of Warwickshire. I’ve bought maps on business trips and then navigated our team around foreign towns and countryside with ease.Knowing where you are and what is over the next hill is fun!
So in conclusion I think everybody should be able to at least read basic information on a map, and to help you out here are some useful links:
- Ordinance Survey – Map Reading Made Easy (PDF document)
- Ordinance Survey website – with online maps
- American maps – Geography and Map Reading Room from of The Library of Congress