The End of the Map

Simon Garfield in the Wall Street Journal:

There is something disappointing about the austere potential perfection of the new maps. The satellites above us have seen all there is to see of the world; technically, they have mapped it all. But satellites know nothing of the beauty of hand-drawn maps, with their Spanish galleons and sea monsters, and they cannot comprehend wanderlust and the desire for discovery. Today we can locate the smallest hamlet in sub-Saharan Africa or the Yukon, but can we claim that we know them any better? Do the irregular and unpredictable fancies of the older maps more accurately reflect the strangeness of the world?

The uncertainty that was once an unavoidable part or our relationship with maps has been replaced by a false sense of Wi-Fi-enabled omnipotence. Digital maps are the enemies of wonder. They suppress our urge to experiment and (usually) steer us from error—but what could be more irrepressibly human than those very things?

Among cartographic misfirings, the disaster of Apple Maps is rather minor, and may even have resulted in some happy accidents—in the same way that Christopher Columbus discovered America when he was aiming for somewhere more eastern and exotic. The history of cartography is nothing if not a catalog of hit-and-miss, a combination of good fortune and misdirection.

More here.

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One comment

  1. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Besides the usual high voiced luddism, decidedly digital maps do not “suppress our urge to experiment”. I don’t think anyone made statistics, but there are a lot of experiments going on from how to contribute and embellish Google Maps to look for potential archaeological artifacts.

    Really. You would think by now people would be used to each new successful media as a rich complement rather than a poor substitute of old media. :-/

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