Maps – are they obsolete?

Do you have a folded paper highway map in your car? The kind that opens up to spread across the whole front seat and most of the windshield?  If you have one, have you used it lately?

A drop in map printing began around 2003, when affordable GPS units became popular Christmas presents. Public demand started to go down; and today, with transportation departments around the country facing limited budgets, paper maps are often the first things on the chopping block. Some states have opted to print new maps every two years rather than every year, others have decided to publish them every five years, and some have done away with them altogether.

I understand this thinking. Tough decisions have to be made in these economic times. It makes sense to cut the services that are thought will be least missed.

But that GPS Lady who verbally gives you directions is only concerned about getting you from here to there in the quickest, most efficient way possible. She cares nothing for the “blue highways,” as writer William Least Heat-Moon calls them — the small, forgotten, out-of-the-way roads (which were drawn in blue on the old-time Rand McNally road atlas) where you’re likely to encounter the things you didn’t plan on: a remote nature reserve, an encounter with a bear, or even a great diner that serves an exceptional piece of pie.

GPS Lady doesn’t understand when you don’t follow her instructions and reprimands you with a stern word of “recalculating” when you venture off her chosen route.

Paper maps never lose their power source or fail to work because of unreliable service. And they don’t admonish you when you veer.

Do you think paper maps are becoming obsolete?


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19 Responses to Maps – are they obsolete?

  1. Morgan says:

    I love paper maps! I have actually printed out all the maps for our vacation this summer because like you said paper maps are hard to come by now. We will be traveling around South Dakota, Wyoming and Montana, what would I do if my GPS stopped working.

    How are we suppose to have Paper Towns without paper maps?

    Once Upon a Time

  2. carolynbranch says:

    I like drive without a destination, go down roads just to see where they lead. Sometimes I have get out a paper map to get back to civilization!

  3. I hope paper maps never disappear. Although I love the Google map app on my phone, I love my paper maps too. I have a huge one just for Chicago, where I live. There is nothing like getting out the map and spreading it out on the floor where you can see everything, instead of what you’re limited to on an itty-bitty screen.

    • carolynbranch says:

      I agree! I actually keep a world map on the wall all the time. When a place is mentioned on the news we go to the wall and look for the country and city.

  4. Anne says:

    I use Google maps all the time for navigating and for research on my desktop. I am really frustrated though that it doesn’t handle natural features such as mountains and rivers so well. Topography is so important. So yes paper maps are terrific but electronic is so convenient.

  5. Sandra says:

    I love maps in all shapes and sizes. Google has its place, but maps are more than just road maps, and although we don’t see the others quite so often they are invaluable. The newest type that comes to mind are the ethnicity maps that have become popular since genetic genealogy has become more popular.
    My post for M was not so not quite so cheery as Maps.
    Dropping by from the A to Z Challenge.
    M is for Mortuary Photo
    Sandra, Aspiring family historian, fellow participant in the #AtoZchallenge
    Sandra’s Ancestral Research Journal

    • carolynbranch says:

      I have been following your posts. I’m interested in family history and you do such a good job with your research in digging out the details. I am not as into it as I used to be. I published a book on my family and one on my husband’s several years ago.

  6. GPS definitely has its limits. It’s a lot harder to find points of interest, I think. And how many of us aren’t learning how to really get places? We’re just waiting to be told to turn left or right!

    • carolynbranch says:

      I think the whole travel experience is so different for younger people who have never traveled without it. Even when traveling through a country where you can’t speak the language, the GPS eliminates the need to communicate and ask for directions. And if you need to ask a question, your phone will translate for you.

  7. Andy says:

    Paper maps are the best. It makes me sad they’re on chopping block now. Roads change so quickly that printing a map every five years would be a real problem. But I was also one of the last on board with GPS systems. I kept a paper map in my car clear until 2016. It wasn’t until I got my iphone that I was comfortable going the GPS route.

  8. Hi, here from the A-Z and found your question intriguing. I am not very good with gizmos so often use paper maps, that’s the first thing I look for getting into a new city. I understand the thinking behind going paperless, but all the same it makes me sad. Cartography is an artform as well as a science, paper maps are beautiful! would be so sad to lose them altogether.

    All the best for the rest of the challenge,

    • carolynbranch says:

      I don’t think we’ll ever lose them altogether. There are many kinds of maps besides street and road maps. Some people said paper books were a thing of the past a few years ago, but it hasn’t happened that way. There is room for paper alongside technology.

  9. Karen says:

    While I often use the GPS on my phone, there are many places in Maine where you can’t get cell phone coverage so paper maps come in quite handy. WeekendsInMaine

  10. As I was planning a trip with my Mom this winter, she asked for a paper map. I think it does help get a sense of the whole area being traveled and shows more options. You can study it as long as you want beforehand without all the hassles that can come with online maps. But for navigating through a city with all the fast traffic and split second decisions… I’m glad the GPS lady on my phone is on the ball, and not someone in the passenger seat trying to follow with a paper map. Nice post about a question I’ve had myself. Thanks.

  11. I really hope the answer is no. I’m a huge fan of paper maps, and of our detailed map books, too. Though I admit it’s great to be able to call up a detailed map of a strange city when you hadn’t planned to be there (and have it show you where the grocery store is, too).

    I use maps in another setting where paper is something I will never give up: backpacking and hiking. I have no desire to carry a heavy device that could die because batteries run out, or it got wet, and leave me with no means of navigating. So 7.5-minute topo maps from the USGS are near and dear to my heart, even when they are 50 years out of date. The trails may fade, but the mountains don’t move!

    The Ninja Librarian’s Favorite Characters

    • carolynbranch says:

      Sure topo maps will always be around! I’m a fan of paper maps, too. That’s why I wrote the piece, because it bothers me that some younger people think they aren’t necessary. I love you last line – I may have to steal it for a novel I’m working on. Thanks!

    • carolynbranch says:

      Surely topo maps will always be around! I’m a fan of paper maps, too. That’s why I wrote the piece, because it bothers me that some younger people think they aren’t necessary. I love your last line – I may have to steal it for a novel I’m working on. Thanks!

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