MapThis is as much an arti­cle as a rant. I can’t believe how many peo­ple can­not fol­low sim­ple trav­el direc­tions or read a basic road map! I’m not talk­ing about a topog­ra­phy or geo sur­vey map. Not even a marine chart. Just a basic road map. Nor am I refer­ring to cryp­tic instruc­tions or vague “go a few miles then turn on Mill Road” direc­tions.

You can blame GPS tech­nol­o­gy to some extent – “Turn right here” etc — but even most GPS units will show a map and a detail the steps of the route too. And isn’t there a curios­i­ty to see where it’s tak­ing you? Could be a part of town you don’t want to trav­el through (been there, done that)?

Maybe you can blame the school sys­tem. When I was in grade school we had a book­let all about maps and map read­ing. Peri­od­i­cal­ly the teacher would give a les­son on these skills as well as under­stand­ing the dif­fer­ent road type sym­bols (inter­state, coun­ty road, local road, dirt path etc). I don’t think such is done in school any more.

There have been many sto­ries about “death by GPS” where peo­ple relied sole­ly on their GPS and it leads them in cir­cles, or to dead ends, or to impass­able ter­rain etc. A GPS is only a com­put­er and is only as good as the data it con­tains. Map’s datum can be inac­cu­rate (I have found sev­er­al errors on GPS loaded datum as well as Google Maps, MapQuest, even Hagstrom maps). In an emer­gency it’s well expect­ed the U.S. mil­i­tary, which owns and con­trols the GPS sys­tem, would like­ly “turn down” the accu­ra­cy of the sys­tem for the gen­er­al pub­lic. And there is the gen­er­al require­ment to have as many GPS satel­lites as pos­si­ble in view. Even at loca­tions of open sky I have some­times had trou­ble get­ting a good GPS sig­nal based on the way the satel­lite con­stel­la­tion is orga­nized at that moment.

Nev­er­the­less, it con­tin­ues to amaze me how many peo­ple (espe­cial­ly among young peo­ple) can not fol­low sim­ple 1–2‑3–4 trav­el direc­tions or read a stan­dard fold­ing road map. There’s one young man I know who always gets lost pret­ty much any­where he goes. If the direc­tions say “Turn right then make the sec­ond left” he will go 4–5 miles before real­iz­ing he didn’t make the sec­ond left turn. I can under­stand miss­ing the sec­ond left, or mak­ing the 1st or 3rd left turn instead of the sec­ond. It hap­pens. But when the direc­tions say to make the sec­ond left and you’ve gone sev­er­al  miles with­out turn­ing don’t you think a red flag should go off in your head?! Or, if the direc­tions say “Go 2 miles to rail road tracks. Make first right imme­di­ate­ly after cross­ing tracks” he will go 3–4 blocks after the tracks before even both­er­ing to look at the “make left imme­di­ate­ly after” direc­tion.

Then there’s the lack of sense of direc­tion. You missed your right turn. Fine. You should know the street you were sup­posed to turn on is behind you. You have no idea how many peo­ple can not han­dle a sim­ple sit­u­a­tion as going around the block to get back to where they should have been! Add in one-way streets and they are even more clue­less!  And for­get about any vague notion of N‑S-E‑W, even dur­ing the day! (A com­pass is also a clue­less tool to many peo­ple.)

Both as a prep­per and just a dai­ly sur­vival non-emer­gency skill, being able to read a map, plan a course of trav­el, and fol­low step-by-step direc­tions is an essen­tial skill to mas­ter.

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