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WNIJ Perspectives

Perspective: The Lost Art Of Reading A Map


Maps have defined my knowledge of the universe around me: road maps for driving, contour maps defining territory for army maneuvers, sectional charts for flying airplanes along designated paths to keep the planes separated, and solar and stellar maps to orient directions on sea or land. A peopled, inhabited, built up terrain.

I speak the language of maps. I know their origins and their references.


My universe is disappearing. A digital one is building. A readout or a voice, or both, now tells me what my phone or iPad sees. It calls out the altitude, admonishes me when I stray from its course, gives me new directions to my destination, or disappears when its electronic path is not supported. Sectional charts are being replaced by iPads.

I think in three dimensions plotted by me from my knowledge of maps. The digital instrument gives precise directions to a GPS location, ignoring the surrounding geography.

How do I know digital is correct? I rely on the universe of my maps: complete with distance, directions, roads, states, cities, people, lakes and rivers.

A new generation relies completely on the digital information. No plotting necessary. The wilderness explorer uses a satellite phone, does not know the stars and their relative positions, doesn’t know the length of her stride in order to calculate distance, would never think to create her own sun dial.

My maps orient me. They show me my place in the universe. The digital world tells me where I am.  My screen a door to a digital world which only I inhabit.

Is that good or bad? I do not know. It is happening.

Gas stations no long sell road maps.

I’m Karl Winkler and that is my perspective.

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