You Are Here

The late comedian Myron Cohen told the story of a man who hid in the bedroom closet when his paramour’s husband arrived home unexpectedly. When the husband opens the closet door and asks what he’s doing there, he replies “Everybody gotta be someplace.”

This existential truth has engaged mankind from the beginning, as have its practical implications. Hunting and gathering might lead you far and wide, but if you can’t find your way back to the secure confines of your cave, you might lose your place on the food chain. Locational awareness is one of the most fundamental of evolutionary traits. Not only does everybody gotta be someplace, but life is just better if you know where that someplace is.

People have been trying to sort out exactly where they fit into the world for thousands of years. One of the earliest maps, attributed to the Babylonians, was found on a clay tablet (about the size of a smartphone) that dates to around 600 B.C. Although it clearly depicts Babylon, the Euphrates River and Assyria, it wasn’t much good for navigation. Scholars believe the real purpose was more primal — to allow the owner to grasp the world at large along with his own place in it. Even back then, “You are here” was a thing.