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Tech for Personal Growth

Maps — Digital vs. Paper

Limitations of digital maps
About 2 min reading time

My pre-electronic handheld mapping tool was a Rand-McNally road atlas. 50 states, 12 provinces, and Mexico if I ever needed it. I always made sure I had human-written directions for the last few streets. And, you know, the only problems I had were bad signs (and my poor ability to spot small signs while driving). It only took a few seconds to flip to the right page, and the detail maps were there, too. Of course, the detail for cities was limited, and often there was no detail map at all where I was headed. But it got me there.

My brother had Mapopolis on his Palm, which looked pretty useful (though the vector maps were hard to interpret without a scale) but I never used it enough to be sure -- certainly not enough to plunk down money for it.

When Google brought out Google Maps Mobile for Palm, I downloaded it right away. I was still using dialup, so it was painfully slow, and version 1.0 would go catatonic without a data connection. Later they fixed that, but it was never convenient enough to take time for -- I would fire it up when I was a passenger, but the near-real-time traffic data never guided us away from traffic jams.

Now I have Google Maps on my Palm Pre, and a 3G connection. My wife and I headed off to a wedding without directions to the site. This wedding was in Canada, where Sprint charges me 60 cents per minute, and data in proportion. GPS is a real help in using mapping programs, when your question is "how do I get there from HERE?"

So, I was looking up directions as we closed in on the border. Google Maps Now, we hoped to get there in time to stop at the hotel room to freshen up, so I loaded the route and switched to "airplane mode" (radios off).

We ran late and had to go directly to the site. So, I had directions to a hotel, but not to the wedding site, and knew Sprint would charge me an arm and a leg to download it. We were short on options, so I turned the radio on, and -- no data service. Fortunately, we soon spotted a Provincial visitor info center, and asked the kind ladies there. So, we got there (and in time!) not with 21st century electronic maps, nor even 17th century paper maps, but Bronze-age stop-and-ask-the-locals. The people who are pushing web applications for mobile need to venture further afield, and learn how far we are from the seamless communication that demands.

I think it's time to buy another Rand-McNally road atlas.