Mapless in Connecticut

Here’s a question: are GPS units killing printed maps?

Saturday morning I joined a parade of cars and trucks shunted off I-91 South near Springfield, MA. A terrible accident hours earlier shut down the highway.

There were no detour signs, no information about why the road was closed, and no clue about where to get back on the highway. I felt a powerful urge to have a map in my hand just in case an alternate route was needed.

The first gas station along the way had nothing. “I’ve got a map of Longmeadow,” offered the clerk. No thanks.

Arriving in Naugatuck (where Naugahyde was first manufactured) I went searching for a map to help plot my trip home. Four different stores — three of them convenience store/gas stations — didn’t have a single map for sale.

When I asked if they had maps, they looked at me like I was asking for directions to the Nauga farm.

GPS receivers are great for navigating, but make lousy maps. Sure, they tell you which way to turn and all have lots of whistles and bells — but it makes you blind to the big picture. It doesn’t show where you’re going, just how to get there.

An actual map allows you perspective on your location and how it relates to other places. Looking at a map and figuring out your own route is an important skill — and like a lot of technology, the GPS might be making us dumber.

Besides, I don’t want directions, I want to look at a map and make my own bad decisions.

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