Map Reading is Becoming a Dying Art

by Stephen

When I was a kid, having just entered high school, one of my favourite books to read was the Sydney street directory. I had just recently moved to Sydney, with my two sisters and mother, so this probably played a part in this – I wanted to learn about my new surroundings.

Photo taken of a page from the 36th edition of the Melway street directory

As I grew up, my interest in maps never disappeared. I began putting maps up on my bedroom walls, much to my mother’s irritation – the Blu-Tack I used, to stick the maps to the walls, had a habit of pulling off the wallpaper, whenever I pulled down a map to replace it wit another. Maps are wonderful things, opening our new horizons.

A photo taken of Hema’s Great Britain & Ireland map, centred on Manchester.

In today’s world, we have sat navs, Google Maps, and other electronic formats. However, these lack the character of a paper map. Sure, they do have their places. Sat navs can get you from A to B, but it lacks the ‘big picture’ feel of a map or street directory. And Google Maps have made plotting a course way too easy.

The more reliant we’ve become, on these useful tools, we’ve begun to lose the simple art of reading a map. Don’t get me wrong – I really do like those technologies. But a map will never need recharging due to a flat battery. They also encourage you to explore, rather than being directed. The planning of my round the world trip has caused my map library to dramatically grow.

A photo of the Nepal GeoCenter Map, centred around Kathmandu.

Do you still use maps for your planning – whether it’s just to get from one side of your city to the other, or to cross  a country or two?

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Mabel Kwong 5th August, 2015 - 12:16

I love how you say it: “They also encourage you to explore, rather than being directed”. So, so true. Reading a map, we are forced to look around us and find the way ourselves and be our own compass. Growing up, my parents treated maps like they were documents, telling me that there is one way to read a particular page on the map and translate that into the real world – or risk going around in circles.

These days I rarely pick up a physical map, instead relying on GPS and my phone to tell me where to go. However, whenever I’m going to a place fairly far away from where I am, I like to have a physical map with me in my bag. As the saying goes, it’s never about the destination but the journey.

Stephen 5th August, 2015 - 14:04

I guess they are documents, aren’t they. 🙂 Particularly when border and country names change. It’s a snapshot in time.

I must admit, I do use my phone, at times, for directions. But, more and more, I’m going back to maps. They’re just so wonderful!


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