When you take a trip to a city that you’ve never been to, do you go to a travel agent or a book store and buy a map of that place? Most of us now use smart phones to guide us through our travels. Google Maps, or Apple Maps, or any other app that helps us get around, they all track our location, so that we are never really “lost”.
But even these maps give us a sense of location. If we take a step back for a moment and understand what maps are used for, we will see that they help us relate to the places we have been and want to go. On this giant globe of a planet it can be really hard to relate to someone over in Africa, but a glance at a map helps put into perspective the distance between you and me.
But not only that, maps help us to relate to each other by showing what buildings and landmarks are in those places we’ve never been. I’ve never been to Tokyo, but I can still be transfixed by looking at the city grid and wondering how so many people live there. The Olympics were in Rio this year, and although I’ve never been there I could relate to where the athletes were competing because of the maps of the coastal city.
I personally have a deep connection to maps. When I was a kid my family took many road trips, and it was my job to help navigate some of the route (even though it was already memorized by my parents). I remember studying the highway that we traveled and the places that we were passing.
“Were about to pass Santa Claus Indiana,” I would say. Or, “The population of Charleston West Virginia is 215,000”. I can remember zooming around on the map as if I were actually driving and going to those places. Visiting the people in the tiny towns.
Maps are a luxury that we take for granted now days, but I am still enthralled with them. Google maps has only deepened my curiosity to see what else is out there. It gives images, ratings, reviews, landmarks, traffic data and more all in one place.
I am reminded every time I spin the globe on Google maps, of how familiar it makes me feel. “Where in the World is Carmen San Diego” was a game that I played in elementary school that was ahead of its time in thinking about maps and places in this way. It encompassed a spy thriller looking for clues and answers all while exploring and learning about new places around the world.
As maps become more and more accessible and more and more integrated into our handheld computers, I can only hope that more and more people will appreciate the beauty of the maps that we hold in our hands. These maps have so much detail packed into them that we can search and find any question about location we have in this world.
I hope that we can continue to be curious about places and the people that live there, because of maps. As Google and Apple and other online map makers continue to add more to their services, I will continue to zoom around pretending to be in a car, going from town to town. So don’t be alarmed if you see me in your town, just know I’m passing through.