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Maps Maketh Man

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

The DriveWrite Archives

Maps Maketh Man

Geoff Maxted
August 7, 2013

Somewhere in the bowels of your car there may be a symbol of the great days of true motoring. Hidden away, like the Dead Sea Scrolls, at the back of your boot or under the back seat you might well find - a dog-eared paper road atlas.

Technophobes will be familiar with this archaic form of direction finding, often used with limited success by your dad. Technophiles will not understand this reliance on map reading skills when there is a perfectly adequate device on the dashboard ready to do the hard work for you.

The sat-nav, like sliced bread, the Ford Mustang and Penelope Cruz, has been one of the great inventions. They have never been cheaper or better featured. They are programmable and settings can be altered to suit. How can something so small be so clever? Well, that ’s the official line, but there’s an unspoken issue. DriveWrite, whilst being forced-marched on a health inducing walk high up on Barbury Castle in Wiltshire, came across a nonplussed German in a Mercedes coming up an ancient track. Being a man, he blamed, in halting English, a ‘broken GPS’. Therein lies the problem.

The news is occasionally filled with giant lorries trapped in villages because their device directed the driver down a country lane and they blindly obliged with the inevitable result. Sat-nav’s are great but they are not infallible. Neither are drivers. Especially not drivers. Despite the fact that the chosen route is clearly unsuitable they follow it anyway. Simply by turning round and forcing the device to ‘recalculate’ would probably solve the issue.

This is why more than half of the UK’s experienced drivers still prefer to use maps, apparently. Real map-reading is a disappearing skill (which should be taught in schools) but most motorists can understand a basic road map once they’ve got it the right way up. Older drivers with more than twenty five years of driving under their belts prefer to stick with maps; at least according to a recent national survey.

As mentioned above they mistrust some of the instructions but what they hate most is the constant babble of instructions. The survey mentions that just forty five percent of respondents owned any form of sat-nav at all, whether portable or built-in. That’s a surprise. We are led by promotions and advertising to believe that the latest thing is indispensable to our lives and yet here we are still relying on ancient texts to move about the country.

Many people have no problem with sat-navs. If kept up to date they can guide drivers through complex and hitherto unknown one way systems; they can place a car with ten metres of the required destination whilst avoiding ferries and traffic jams. What’s not to like?

On the other hand, it is quite nice to know that some things never change. Maps bring out the pioneer spirit in motorists. They can take married couples to distant lay-bys for spousal arguments about the innate inability of women to read maps and, conversely, about the driving ability and general manliness of the bloke behind the wheel. It’s true. There is something special about a map and the more detail on it the better. They can bring hidden places to the fore and suggest that anything is possible to the enquiring mind. Perhaps car makers would do well to heed this and start offering a full set of ordnance survey maps as an alternative option.

It’s a thought.

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