Even if everything navigation is pointing in the direction of GPS, you’ll never tear some folks away from their paper maps.
As digital navigation tools continue to become regular fixtures in getting us to where we’re going, Google Maps is also looking at having an impact on establishing where we are. Google CEO Sundar Pichai blogged that, “one of the next frontiers for Maps will be to help the billions of people who live without a physical address get a digital one,” using latitude and longitude coordinates rather than a street address which he says would let more folks access things like banking and emergency services, receive personal mail and deliveries, and help others find and patronize their businesses.
The global digital map market appears to be going places. San Francisco market researcher Grand View Research estimated the global digital map market to be worth $5.6 billion in 2018. The firm expects the market to continue to expand at a compounded annual growth rate of 12.1 percent through 2025.
No signal? No problem. No battery required.
For her part, Kendra Ensor, the vice president of marketing at Rand McNally in Chicago, says about five years ago the company started to see an uptick in Road Atlas sales. “After all, a printed atlas doesn’t require batteries or a satellite or cell signal,” she says.
Fear of those dead batteries or spotty coverage is a key reason cited by many of the people who responded to USA Today on social media about why they still use paper maps.
“When we were in Nebraska last year with all the flooding, a paper map would have been helpful when both Apple and Google Maps told us to go down a flooded road,” says Barb Gonzalez, a travel photographer and writer based in Bend, Oregon.
There’s a host of other reasons for printed maps, though, from carefully curated collections for historical or scholarly purposes to artistic displays to the accidental stockpile from recent travels.
David Rumsey’s collection of over 150,000 maps is housed at Stanford University. Over 30 years, he amassed atlases, wall maps, globes, school geographies, pocket maps, maritime charts dating from about 1550.
For community planners, real estate agents, and engineers, paper maps are just tools of the trade.
“Suddenly we have these driving directions in our pockets and everybody seems to have forgotten that all these other maps exist even though they clearly use them on a regular basis,” says Daniel Huffman, a cartographer and an honorary fellow at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. “I don’t think there is much of a separate case to be made for paper maps versus paper newspapers or paper books.”
Privacy: Paper maps tell no tales
To the extent that people fret about privacy, paper maps also won’t track you.
Now, Apple emphasized privacy as part of its rollout for the latest iteration of Apple Maps: No sign-on is required, for example, and data collected by Maps while using the app including search terms, navigation routing, and traffic information is hidden behind random identifiers.
When you navigate somewhere using Google Maps, your every movement is often tracked where it shows up inside Google’s somewhat controversial opt-in Location History feature. Those seeking more privacy can enable Incognito Mode which will stop Google from saving your Maps search and navigation activities to your Google Account. The downside is you’ll lose some personalization features around such things as restaurant recommendations and traffic updates.
Using paper maps to plan
There’s just something about unfolding a map and laying it flat on a table. It’s at the same time visceral and visual. You get the size, sweep, and perspective that’s typically lacking when you stare at a smallish screen or wait for the voice to tell you when to make the next turn.
You may mark up that map as you pore over it for sites you might want to visit. It could be for a trip soon to be taken or it may represent the only manifestation of the dream of a trip yet to materialize beyond the map in your hand.
“My dividing line: paper maps for planning and GPS in transit,” says Marty Levine in Vancouver, British Columbia.
For some people, a map is memory. It rekindles something else perhaps a cherished and tangible recollection of places they visited or once lived or it lives as a representation of ancestral ties like the birthplace of their parents or grandparents.
“My husband and I used a paper map to drive throughout Portugal during our honeymoon (in 2017),” says Andrea Schneider who lives in Austin. The couple highlighted their route in orange and yellow, to mark alternate days.
At night, they’d review the spectacular high-speed toll roads and many tunnels they’d gone through and plot the next day’s route. Schneider says the map gave them a deeper insight into the country’s typography and highway system.
“This old-school approach to an international road trip was more interesting, reliable, and fun than depending upon Google Maps,” she says.
The map is currently tucked away in a box with other mementos from the Portugal trip and Schneider says she plans to frame it one of these days.
“It’s a lovely keepsake and souvenir that can’t really be recreated via a GPS.”
In this rapidly evolving digital world, paper maps add a sense of permanence. Roads and streets change for sure and no printed map can typically keep up with that pace of change. But printed maps aren’t just about plotting where you may be heading next. They’re as much about where you have been.
How do you use paper maps?
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It finally happened. I got the GPS lady so confused, she said, “In one-quarter mile, make a legal stop and ask directions.”