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Maps: Wiped off the map?

Sheila Sybrant

Bus driver and cartographer. These are two professions that have never been realistic for me, according to my mother.

Beginning pretty much when I first started driving, my mother’s mantra was that I could never be a bus driver or cartographer.

This was based on my amazing propensity to get lost when behind the wheel of a car. My mother is in her late 80s but probably can still remember every incident in which I had trouble finding a destination.

That list is long — although it only includes the incidents that she knows about.

If I could keep an incident from her, I definitely did.

My ability to get lost was — well, to say that I was geographically challenged would be an understatement. I actually got lost once in Newport, Nebraska, but that’s a story for another day.

The main takeaway from my high school years is that although I knew that the quickest way to get from Point A to Point B is a straight line, I usually ended up following a circuitous path.

Thankfully, I don’t get lost as often now. This is in some small part due to GPS systems. Mostly, though, it helps that I can now read a map. This was a skill that eluded me back in the day.

I don’t have a smartphone, so when I was introduced to the wonders of a navigation system about seven years ago with the gift of a GPS unit that plugs into my car, I was thrilled.

I was less than thrilled the first time the GPS system sent me the wrong way — despite an accurate input of destination data — and I was completely lost.

Fortunately, because I have no real faith in technology, I actually had an atlas with me, which was my savior.

If you look online, you will find numerous sites that sing the praises of maps and explain why, according to them, GPS will never replace paper maps.

Because I have a natural skepticism of technology, I’d like to believe that this is true. However, I am also a realist, and I fear that the articles on these sites are an example of a situation where people keep shouting louder and louder, thinking that the louder they shout, the more their point will be heard and listened to.

In fact, an Ordnance Survey (British mapping agency) about millennials and their navigational habits revealed that 15 percent of millennials have never had a close encounter with a map.

Over half feel they’d be lost without their phone to guide them — yet almost a third say that technology has led them astray and gotten them lost at some point.

Nonetheless, fewer than 20% feel like they have sufficient map skills to write home about.

It is no secret that technology is changing the skills that schools are teaching to young people.

Handwriting is just one example: some schools apparently don’t teach handwriting anymore due to increasing reliance on computer-based communications.

Will the few map skills currently being taught in schools also go by the wayside? That would be unfortunate because GPS is not perfect even when power can be relied upon.

Many factors have led to my improved (yet still far from perfect) map skills: age; increased travel experience; forced reliance on maps due to poorly marked detours; and, last but definitely not least, less-than-reliable technology.

I guarantee that bus driver and cartographer are still not in my plans, but maybe I’ll at least get to Point B from Point A in a relatively straight line.

Readers may contact Sheila at svsybrant@gmail.com or 45092 859th Road, Bassett, NE 68714.

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