The Still-Essential Skill of Cartography 

Looking Forward

 When my kids were in high school, I made them learn to read a map. Their mother was incapable in this capacity, but still rode shotgun even though she had no ability to navigate us out of difficulty. When I got off course, I’d toss the map in the back seat and tell the kids to figure out how to get to our vacation destination or we would just spend the night in the car. With that kind of motivation, they became excellent navigators. 

When they went off to college, the smart phone became a thing and no sooner had they mastered reading the impossible-to-fold paper map than it became obsolete, like the typewriter or landline—a useless relic of the past. 

This remains a family joke to this day. “Thanks, Dad, for teaching us to read a map. It comes in about as handy as that algebra class I had to take freshman year of high school.” 

I recently did a tour of several European cities, and streets that once would have required a stack of maps and atlases to navigate were all contained in our pockets. The deeper we get into the less maps become a necessity. Right?  

Let’s slow down a bit. Maybe maps come in a different form, but as contributing writer Marc Delgado discusses starting on page 12: The Best Maps are not Behind Us. Geographic information systems are helping cartographers create detailed and information-packed maps. Marc’s discussion with cartographer Evan Applegate illuminates why maps are not dead but thriving. 

Reading maps may no longer be the essential skill it once was, what with turn-by-turn directions spoken by the cultured British lady in my phone, but at the next family dinner where I get roasted for pressing a skill no obsolete, I’ll toss all this back at them. Plus, we never did have to spend a night in the car so they got something from the process. 

– JT 

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