The more we go digital, the more we can value traditional approaches
I am fascinated by digital technology and as avid a user of apps and devices as anyone I know. At my age, I should be descending into a gentle, anachronistic old age but I often feel I have just the right mix of imagination and numeracy for a vibrant digital affinity.
But digital comes at a price. I defy you not to miss the feel, smell and sensual experience of reading a book, for example, or the enjoyment of dropping a pickup arm onto a vinyl disc, not to mention the deeper sound and hiss and crackle of static.
The more I use digital devices to input copy with keyboard or voice, the more I enjoy using a fountain pen on laid paper, writing letters and keeping notebooks.
Navigational systems are ubiquitous from GPS in cars, mapping apps on phones and charting app in yachts. I have a pilot friend who complements her private aircraft’s electronic instrumentation with a very useful iPad app.
But here’s the thing: digital mapping comes with a cost. Without seeing the big picture from a map or chart, we can get from A to B efficiently enough but lose an idea of the overall journey, the potential choice of other routes and
an appreciation of the countryside or seascape.
I enjoy planning a car journey from a topographical map: visualising the three dimensions of the route from contour lines, taking in the attractions on either side of the chosen road and deciding between direct routes and smaller, more scenic roads. Walking is enhanced by planning a route from a Landranger Ordnance Map even if you check your position on the walk from a mobile app.
There is something about using analogue first principles on both topographical maps and nautical charts — knowing the relationships between magnetic and true north, speed and scale, and so on — that is the basis of a fuller understanding of what navigational apps are providing you with and the assumptions they use.
There’s a safety element, too. If an electronic device can lose power, Sod’s Law says it may well do. If you have developed your analogue skills, in the absence of a chartplotter, you can plot a course on a chart, read your tide tables and spot lighthouses on the way to setting a course to safety.