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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Remembering The Days of Fold Up Maps To Now

I was recently asked a series of questions from a software company in regards to how I felt about GPS mapping and planning routes. While contemplating the questions over a glass of sweet tea and a sandwich it had occurred to me. It really was not too long ago people actually went coast to coast with nothing more than a paperback atlas and the beckoning of the road.

Sure we had fold up state maps which in my experience never folded back exactly into their original printed form and to find a city or street we would cross reference letter and number combinations to the grid on the map itself. Yet we managed, nowadays we panic if we forget our cell phone at home and drive back to retrieve it before heading out again. Don't even tell me you haven't done that.

How much of our road abilities have we traded with our modern conveniences? How much of our natural instincts for remembering landmarks and getting from place A to place B have we lost? I went geocaching last weekend and drove all over Cary, NC. Led by my auto navigation GPS from one geocache to the next I blissfully navigated. Yet if asked I could not tell you exactly where I went. I remember finding the geocaches but am mostly blank of any notable landmarks or roads that I drove upon. Does it matter? I wonder.

The Magic that was MapQuest
Back in the day when I wanted to plan a road trip I used Mapquest. I was known for always having my routes planned and printed in advance. Having the ease of a route planned for me was a bit of a miracle and solved the trouble of how to get from one place to the other. Though it still did not resolve the bigger stress while driving. That would be how far up the road was my next turn? In other words, I would be looking at that printed piece of paper a zillion times even when I knew there was sometimes hundreds of miles before a particular turn would be coming up. The pressure of making sure you didn't miss a turn was intense. I mean if you missed it would be like falling off the side of the world never to be seen again. How would you know how to detour if the printed instructions didn't tell you how to do it?

Google Maps

Then the electronic age and with it came Google Maps on my Palm PDA. No more paper maps! I would have a bluetooth connection from my PDA to my phone and could get map updates when needed. This did not completely take the stress of travelling away but I knew that I would never get 'completely' lost on a trip.
As far as checking for when the next turn came was at least visible by seeing my position on the map itself. What a great concept.

Hellllo Garmin.

Sure I heard of Tom Tom but GPSs back then were too expensive for me and I had ways of getting from point a to point b. Why did I want to fork out several hundred dollars for one of those? Ridiculous. Then in February of last year the Garmin Nuvi dropped in price and I finally bought one. Jeez what a difference. Not only did I not have to worry about the up coming turns but it warned me in advance that the turn was coming. I no longer had to squint at night trying to read road signs. My eyes are not as good as they used to was and it was like having a radar out there keeping me where I was supposed to be. What a relief. Sure people can argue that today's automobile GPS units still do not always find the quickest or shortest route but it does what it says and gets you there, regardless.

As far as planning out a road trip I still use Google Earth. I am able to scope out different routes and visually see how long they will take and how far off the beaten path to get there. Very handy and again it is more for observing the big picture rather than to sweat the little details.

So there you have it. We trade some of our honed landmark recognition skills for more confidence that we can never really get lost again. For me that is a trade I am willing to make. Just hope that the GPS network is always going to be out there and working. I no longer remember if you have to turn right or left at the big oak tree down the street.

Please don't forget to visit our GeoSnippits Geocaching Tutorial Videos Website at http://www.geosnippits.com

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