A few days after my daughter’s wedding, I was taking my son to the airport in her car. He had to catch a plane to Nevada from Baltimore, and I would be driving back to central Pennsylvania with my granddaughter. It was kind of a complicated plan, but to cut a long story short: on the way to the airport I remembered my daughter kept no maps in her car and I didn’t recall exactly how to get back to her house. No problem: my son whipped out his smartphone and painstakingly wrote down every step of the Google directions. I remarked that it seemed more complicated than it should be. “Google always seems like that,” he said.
So after dropping him off at the airport I wended my way out of spaghetti-bowl of freeway interchanges and turned off on the first numbered road of the route he wrote down for me. My six-year-old granddaughter piped up from the back seat with one request: she wanted to stop at a Sheetz convenience store and order a snack on their electronic ordering board. No problem—you can barely hurl a chocolate malted in PA without hitting a Sheetz, so I planned on making a midway stop during a drive that should last no more than two hours.
Except that, shortly after making another turn I realized we were in the country. Had Google thoughtfully routed me around the metro areas to save my blood pressure? Had I made a wrong turn somewhere? I could have stopped at a convenience store and asked, but there weren’t any. At least, not for very long stretches of road while looping around hairpin curves, straining up and coasting down hills, and barreling, ever more anxiously, through beautiful bucolic countryside.
I didn’t make any wrong turns; the roads I was on turned out to be the correct ones. Maybe Google was having a little fun with me. At any rate, it took a good three hours to get home, without encountering a single Sheetz, and what bothered me the most was that I had. No. Map.
I understand they’re a relic of the past—who needs ‘em when you’ve got GPS to direct your every move? or you can just punch an address into your phone and the smug presence within will call out turns and remain unfailingly polite when you miss them? (I’d rather she would just yell, “You missed it! Go back!”)
I get that smartphone users can zoom out whenever they want a bigger picture of the terrain, but “big picture,” on a tiny screen is a bit of an oxymoron, isn’t it? The clumsiness of a folding map has been gist for a dozen comedy routines and cartoons, but if you’re prudent enough to pull over by the side of the road, spread out the folds and out and peruse the markings at your leisure, what a marvel of vision and precision is a road map. The subtle county boundaries, the squiggly roads and ruler-straight highways, the towns and cities named in varying font-sizes that should give a pretty good idea of where all the Sheetz stores are . . . most of all, the BIG PICTURE.
.Are we missing that? Maybe we spend so much time focused on a three-inch screen that our thinking is more along the lines of How to I get from point to point? rather than What’s the best route to my final destination? There does seem to be a lot of short-term thinking out there—no doubt a human failing from the very beginning. But how did we decide we could get along without a map?