Binary Man: Map Vs. GPS
Binary Man has come to our planet to settle disputes, solve problems and make life better. Got an issue for him? Post it below or e-mail him.
Binary Man's day job regularly takes him to new-ish suburban subdivisions that aren't on any map. GPS systems don't recognize the street names and paper maps show nothing but wide open spaces.
In those cases, it's the old paper maps that get him closest, but to be fair, that's as much a factor of his having paid attention in second grade during the SRA Map and Globe Skills lessons (Binary Man recalls racing against Roger Hoffman to reach the gold level in those SRA cards; the memory says victory, but Roger may have a different recollection) as it is a tribute to the natural superiority of paper maps.
On the other hand, your Either/Or man's directionally-challenged friends swear by their GPS systems. Old Germany pal Tammy, for example, who once inadvertently drove from Paris to Bonn via Luxembourg back in the pre-GPS era, believes in the gadgets the way some of you worship your crackberries.
So, which is better, the handheld product of cartographers who literally drive out to the edge of sprawl to eyeball new streets, or the electronic wizardry that views the world from satellites and speaks to you like a latter-day Hal, unemotionally adjusting to your human frailties?
The 'puter press is chock full of lovesongs to the gods of GPS, and they make some good points: GPS is faster, more convenient and far less likely to have coffee stains or tears at exactly the stretch of Rt. 15 where you need to find your turnoff. And if you're really, really lost--so much so that you have no point of reference on a map--then GPS is your only hope.
Maybe. Because if you have even the slightest facility with maps, you will find some landmark, some street name, some entry into the big picture that maps lay out for you in a way that GPS screens simply cannot.
GPS lovers tout their technology as a killer app that, for the average user, makes maps obsolete. Why do you need to know that bigger picture if all you want to do is get to the party? Even if GPS directions are sometimes wildly over-literal or send you onto deserted dead ends, they're pretty darn good at getting you there.
But life is not just about arriving at the destination. You'll pardon Binary Man for getting a little idealistic or even a tad bit nostalgic, but it really is about the journey, and only a gosh darn old school map shows you the true path.
GPS delivers the goods, but a map tells a story. The worn, torn and forlorn maps crammed into the compartments in the doors of Binary Man's car summon all manner of memories; as poorly refolded as they may be, long since missing their covers, they provide instant shortcuts to mental pictures of beach vacations and family road trips.
And, if you're all about the efficiency, there's some evidence that maps get you there faster. In tests in Britain, an old-fashioned printed road atlas beat out a fancy GPS sat-nav system rather handily. Your mileage may vary, of course, but if the gizmo can't even claim to beat the paper product nearly every time, then why even consider selling your soul?
Verdict: Binary Man, despite his genetic preference for the new and the digital, chooses the relic of the paper era. Not because it gets you there faster (sometimes it won't) and not because it's a sentimental fave (goodness--there are still people who get TripTiks from the AAA [they always had the coolest of felt-tip markers to color-code your way to the next motel]), but rather for these essential reasons:
A map assumes that a person has a brain and cares to use it; GPS operates on the idea that people move through life on a need-to-know basis. A map imparts not only information to act upon, but a larger sense of the world; GPS, in a sad way, makes us dumber. A map opens possibilities; GPS limits them.
Binary Man is by no means arguing for a Luddite approach; there are times and places and people for whom the satellite is the best solution. But Binary Man covers his walls with maps, and if he had to choose between those maps and windows, he'd stick with the ones that provide the bigger vista, the ones created by cartographers, bless their hearts.
What do you think?
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