Why I Love Maps
When I was five years old, I used to sit on the floor with my parents’ atlas and trace the map of the world onto my sketch pad. I was in Kindergarten: I barely registered the existence of a world beyond my own backyard. And yet these illustrations of faraway lands transported me. My imagination took flight. I dutifully copied, and I fell in love with maps.
I don’t know exactly what it is that drew me to maps in my childhood and continues to today. Maybe I was just a weird kid. But even back then, I strived to gain knowledge of the world around me. The globe I owned as a child taught me about the world I had yet to see. Almost twenty years later, an old, weathered road atlas took me across the country. A good map, well studied, can become an old friend.
People think of maps as objective, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. A map is a political and cultural document. It is a snapshot of the global imagination, an arbitrary projection of lines and names onto a planet that, truthfully, has neither. Some maps choose not to recognize certain countries; some claim that Greenland is bigger than Africa.
At various times throughout history, a map created in one part of the world might look quite different from one created elsewhere. Today, thankfully, some standards have been set. We can all agree on the general shape and position of the dry and wet parts of the Earth. The question of map-making in 2019, therefore, is a horse of a different color.
Part of this is because the modern traveler does not depend on the globe in their study, but the screen in their pocket. There are different options, to be sure. I myself rely on Google Maps. Others swear by Waze. Some poor saps, presumably, are still using Apple Maps. Whichever you prefer, maps are perhaps more accessible now than they ever have been.
And yet this is not even the most revolutionary fact about maps in 2019. Because, while our phones allow us to navigate like never before, they also allow us to map ourselves. We constantly share our location via apps like Snapchat and Find My Friend, as well as a host of other third-party collectors. Our data is being used every day to draw the maps of the future. And I, for one, can’t wait to see them.
We already can see this in some forms. Think of the real-time traffic maps that you use to determine the best time to leave for work. Or the map that tells you how crowded the hip new restaurant is going to be, and predicts how much time you will probably spend there. Powered by enough data, a map becomes a living thing.
And that’s just the beginning. I imagine digital maps, integrated with historical location data, that can answer questions about the effect people have on their place. How do hiking trails change over time, based on erosion caused by footfall? Which parts of a city see the most travel by car, bike, and bus? The possibilities are endless.
I am never going to abandon my road atlas and my globe. I will always get particular satisfaction from cracking open a physical map and finding my way. But companies like X-Mode Social are changing the way we map the world and our place within it. And I am happy to know that the next generation of weird kids, sitting on the floor with their own sketch pads, will not run out of maps to inspire their imagination.
By: Joseph Green