William Rankin, Author of ‘After the Map,’ Interviewed

after-the-mapYaleNews interviews William Rankin, who’s a history of science professor at Yale, about his book, After the Map: Cartography, Navigation, and the Transformation of Territory in the Twentieth Century (University of Chicago Press, July 2016), which, the article says, “explores, among other topics, the shift in maps from a ‘gods-eye-view’ to the embedded experience of GPS.” A sample:

It would be tempting to say that life is just getting better and better because now we can do all of these amazing things with GPS that we couldn’t do with paper maps. We can find new restaurants anywhere in the world, just by following directions on a screen! But it’s also tempting to say that we’re losing our sense of place, our ability to navigate on our own, or even the joy of getting truly lost. It’s sad to think that our children won’t pore over maps the way we did when we were young.

There’s something to be said for both of these responses, but rather than just choosing between progress and decline I’m more interested in how GPS is changing what’s possible. It’s possible now to connect a series of disconnected points relatively easily. On a personal level, this means being able to travel between A and B without knowing anything in between. You can’t do this with a paper map, since navigating outside the map’s boundaries is quite difficult. But at the same time, we are definitely giving up the kind of in-depth knowledge of a larger neighborhood that we get from traditional maps. So it’s not really about life getting better or worse, but about exchanging an intensive understanding of a particular area with this much more expansive ability to connect a series of points.

The interview also includes a short video (see above). [Tony Campbell]

Previously: After the Map.