Using Google Maps to Create a Real-World Paracosm

Brendan Koerner’s 12-year-old son has been spending the lockdown planning a summer road trip in great detail using Google Maps. As it turned out, his son was doing something more than, and other than, simply planning a trip: he was using maps to create a paracosm, one based in data and real locations rather than fantasy space.

In the days that followed, I’d often catch my son on Google Maps with pen in hand, jotting down increasingly specific bits of information that he considered essential to his plans: the names of bridges that span the Susquehanna River, the phone numbers for motor inns in Greater Pawtucket, the best things to eat while watching the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. (The stadium’s clam chowder has received lavish online praise.) As I watched him get lost in the pleasure of these tasks, I realized that he was under no illusions about the trip’s actual odds of taking place. He was immersing himself in Google Maps not because he expected we’d be attending a Norwich Sea Unicorns game anytime soon, but so he could build himself a sanctuary—a space where he’s in charge of how an uncertain future will unfold.

Getting lost in maps is an activity I expect a lot of us recognize, and have done ourselves, though the particulars are probably unique to each of us. (Random thought: Is this one reason why fantasy novels come with maps? Are the maps doing more of the work than we thought?)