Does Google Maps Inhibit a Sense of Geographic Imagination?

Maps have always related and realigned our history; increasingly, we're ceding control of that history to the cold precision of the computer. With this comes great responsibility. Leading mapmakers used to be scattered around the world, all lending their distinctive talents and interpretations. These days by far the most influential are concentrated in one place—Mountain View, Calif., home of the Googleplex.

- Simon Garfield writing in the The Wall Street Journal, December 22, 2012

Garfield penned a thoughtful article in the WSJ's Weekend edition about how cartographers of the past while not always perfect in their mapping skills, provided awareness of places unexplorred and to some degree imagination. Some map mapkers were better than others; some relied on erroneous information leading to misguided adventures.

Garfield also suggests, however that "there is something valuable about getting lost occasionally, even in our pixelated, endlessly interconnected world."

I get that sense that Garfield believes that Google Maps and other Internet mapping websites take away some of the mystery and elminates the need to explore. He bemoans the passing of the "folded map."

Children of the current generation will be poorer for it if they never get to linger over a vast paper map and then try in vain to fold it back into its original shape. They will miss discovering that the world on a map is nothing if not an invitation to dream.

I guess I would take issue with this assumption. Google Maps and Earth lead to exploring places "beyond the fold" and seeking areas along the "road less traveled." In fact, as I look back as places I haven't traveled to in many years, going back now to see how regions have changed via Google Earth allows me to reconnect with places for which I have fond memories.

What do you think? Does today's digital map medium inhibit or enhance the fascination with the world's geography?

Published Monday, December 24th, 2012

Written by Joe Francica

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