In what has to rank as one of the most surprising outbursts of the summer, the BBC reports how the president of the British Cartographic Society has blasted online maps and accused them of "demolishing thousands of years of history."
The remarkable rant took place at the Institute of British Geographers conference in London. During her speech, Mary Spence is said to have taken aim at Internet mapping services for "wiping the rich geography and history of Britain off the map."
The argument appears to be that while online maps are great for driving directions, they suck when it comes to imparting the kind of data required to truly understand a landscape. Things such as churches and stately homes are not included on many of these maps, and as a result they are in danger of being erased from the consciousness of the masses.
The BBC reckons that Mary Spence believes this will have the consequence of causing long-term damage to a future generation of map readers. I reckon she is wrong because there will not be such a future generation, at least not in the sense of how we think of map reading today.
Maps are, quite frankly, old technology. Maps are, when it comes down to it and for the majority of us today, nothing more than the raw data that feeds out satnav devices. Who cares what symbols are drawn upon the image of a landscape, when you just want to find the nearest supermarket? If I want to visit an ancient woodland or church, I'll find out where it is by searching Google and then let the satnav lady direct me there after I have inputted the postcode for her.
OK, perhaps Ms Spence is right after all then, in that map reading is becoming a forgotten skill, it is being replaced by an understanding of handling geographical data instead.
Personally, I do not think this is a bad thing. Those who want to pour over an unwieldy and impossible to re-fold lump of paper will still be able to do so. The rest of us can just fire up a web browser or hit the button on that small box in the car.
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Most maps on the 'net are of terrible quality, their data suspect.
They're no better than the maps printed and sold in the Soviet Union, which were (and possibly still are) deliberately inaccurate to prevent people knowing the exact geography of the country or even the locations of the cities they lived in (most maps on the 'net are probably not inaccurate by design).