Many of you reading here, being quite young, will never have used an actual paper map or book of maps.
It’s a well known fact that most women who haven’t had the advantage of being a Girl Guide or participating in orienteering competitions, are not blessed with a great sense of direction. You can include me in that group. Even though I was a somewhat reluctant Girl Guide for a period of time, it didn’t improve my navigation skills. Or my camping skills, come to that, but I digress…
My disinterest in map-reading was not helped by the fact that my own father never learned to drive a car. When my mother passed her driving test, she was delighted. She came off the Valium and wanted to drive all over the country. Too bad the City of London was in her way of most of the time. England is a troublesome place to navigate if you’re not going to or from the capital. Back then it was usually easier to go through it. In those days, maps were large sheets bigger even than A3 paper, that could, if you happened to be ambidextrous, be folded back into their original neat envelope sized package. This was rarely achieved in our car. Dad was designated navigator. We would hand him the map, and I would hop into the rear to play my supporting role as back-seat driver.
If you’ve never had much experience on the road, it’s hard to appreciate the fact that the driver of a car needs advance warning of a change in direction, particularly when they have no idea about their route. As a man, Dad may have been much better at reading maps than we were. Not only that, he knew the streets of London like the back of his hand. The wiliest taxi driver could not fool him. If anything, he had more “knowledge” than they did. But his loud and indignant exclamation “Left!! you should have turned left there!!!” was not very helpful when, not having been able to react to the belated advice safely, we were destined to a 20 mile detour on a dual carriage way. His understanding of traffic flow was limited. When left to herself, my mother’s strategy of “let’s just follow the car in front he’s probably going to the same place that we are” was hit or miss, mostly miss.
The Ministry of Transport later solved this tricky problem by putting a ring road all the way round the city, so that it didn’t matter if you turned the wrong way at Heathrow, you still ended up roughly near home somewhere in Essex.
It was easy to lose your place on those big maps, so they tended to get folded this way and that, and wherever you wanted to go would be right on the edge of the fold, if it hadn’t been torn away altogether. Then one day, some unknown cartographer must have had the idea of chopping the maps into pages and putting them in a book. Brilliant! Now we could just tear out the page we used the most, and once we knew our way around it, that page would get lost. No matter. Knowing our immediate environs, we would only need the rest of the book if we went on a long journey. On those occasions our destinations persisted in locating themselves beyond the edge of the page, and naturally enough, the next page was rarely the one that followed on. It is a testament to my parents’ marriage that they ever arrived at the homes of their far-flung family, which they always did, in good humor even if in need of a stiff drink, which our relatives could be relied upon to provide.
Enter the iPhone and the iPad. Thank you God! Steve Jobs must have known a thing or two about map-reading females and how they were fed up with twisting in their seats to face the same way the map did, or constantly turning that book around in an attempt to orient themselves at their current location, struggling to visualize the journey to the desired location. Sometimes it was just easier to ask directions of a local. And when we would be told to “just go up to the top of this road, then turn right, left and left again, you can’t miss it”, it was that “can’t miss it” phrase that distracted us, and prevented us from remembering whether it was right left left, or left right right. Or wait a minute, it might have been left right left, better have another look at the map, because the local has disappeared. But first of all I need to turn it upside down. The difficult question that presented itself at that moment was, well, “Where exactly are we now?” We dashed to the nearest corner with a street sign and stopped to look it up in the index. You know what? We were lost.
Yes, Mr Jobs knew us better than we knew ourselves when he insisted, above all other considerations, that the screen on the iPad needs to be able to turn itself the right way up automatically. Someone at Google was pretty clever too, to make sure that the electronic map always finds North and puts it at the top so that we don’t have to contort ourselves any more. But the most magical, the most unbelievable and wondrous thing about electronic maps is that they know where we are now. Not just where we started, or where we’re going, but where we actually are now. I just love that little blue dot. Then we even get a choice of routes so we can decide. Now you may love your GPS Navman or your TomTom, and it too knows where we are, and tells us the way to go. It may even give you an overview, but it doesn’t let you decide.
That’s why I love the electronic map on my iPad. I know exactly where I am with it and where I’m going.