How Google Maps and Gmail Will Distort Human History






Q.

How has the Internet changed maps?

A.

Beyond anyone's imagination, really. The effects have been colossal and irreversible. If you were to say 20 years ago that we would all be walking around with free maps on our phones that placed us at the center of the world and told us where to go and how to get there, I would have thought you were crazy. The Internet has had more effect on maps, cartography, and the way we get around than anything else in two thousand years of map history. Rand McNally only covered America for a century. Now Google Maps, which has only been around for about five years, is all over the world and without a doubt the most influential map company in history. They have a lot of responsibility to get it right.

Q.

How has that affected the way we see ourselves in the world?

A.

Our entire view of the world is skewed. Today we are always a little flashing blue dot in the middle of every map; we're the center of the world! But often that map is only 2 inches by 3 inches on your phone screen, which means that we get a very limited view of what's around us, and we look at the world in a very egocentric way. We can get in a car and travel across the country without really knowing how we got there because we're just following GPS commands. We learn far less and lose that instinct of what lies in relation to what. Why would anyone learn to read a map when it's all done for us? And why should I go spend $10 on a paper map when I can get it all for free on my phone? And the map will be more up-to-date on my phone too. It makes sense.




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