Digital Maps Could Be Changing How We Scale the World

When you open your map app, you're at the center of the world by default. But this perspective may leave your sense of scale of the world a little skewed.

Maps have changed perspective from the huge atlases of old that left travelers to guess where the next gas station or food stop would be. Today, we can easily find food, friends, and most importantly ourselves thanks to mobile maps. By default, we are now at the center of any city, and every cafe and bathroom populate around our location—a rather new point of view.


Thomas McMullan of The Guardian believes these pocket maps are distorting our perspective of place and sense of scale. Mike Duggan, a researcher in Cultural Geography at Royal Holloway, agrees.

“There’s a long history in ‘smoothing out the city’ via technology. What’s new is that these mobile technologies (i.e. smartphones) offer so much in one place--the palms of our hands--and this often seems like a revolution because we no longer have to go searching very far for information that makes life easier: we just reach into our pockets.”

Mobile maps have helped us find food, fuel, and friends easily and they're all located emanating from us as the center point. Duggan explains that these maps are becoming quite personal, putting you as the focus--after all, you want to know how far the walk to the cafe is from where you're standing. Where we are, where we've been, where we want to go—it's all right there on a 4.7-inch screen.

This perspective puts the sense of a city's or a state's scale beyond the peripheries of a tiny screen. All that we see is a blue line, telling us how to get to our point B. McMullan references how games use waypoints and lines to help guide players across open worlds, like Skyrim and GTA V. While those waypoints are restricted to our 4.7-inch screens for now, Google Glass may help the virtual and real meld. Users could see a blue line jut-out to show the path from you to the local coffee shop. It's a bleak outlook for technology hampering our sense of exploration rather than helping it.

McMullan has hope. He believes that the view of our cities may narrow for many, but those who truly wish to experience it will drift beyond our map's 4.7-inch limits.

Read more at The Guardian

Photo Credit: benchar/ Shutterstock

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