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Map mope

It's summer, time for road trips, weekend getaways, days at the river. You know the routine: pop open the glove compartment and pull out the dog-eared but finely detailed map provided by AAA or bought at the local gas station. Scan the lay of the land, easily finding the starting point. The destination takes a little more time to pin down—there's so much to consider in between. Find the key and guesstimate the distance and mileage while wondering if the scenic side road might be incorporated into the route.

Or sit down at the computer and pull up a mapping site. Turn by turn, the online map gives directions, mileage and estimated travel time included, plus, of course, links for area hotels, events, jobs and real estate. Print the directions out, and who needs a paper map? Besides, they're such a bitch to fold.

High-quality paper maps are growing scarce as such esteemed providers as AAA are paring down the supply or phasing them out due to the high costs of keeping them updated. The California State Automobile Association, AAA's Northern California cartography department, stopped producing maps last year, outsourcing production to the national office in Florida. Online mapping services, GPS systems and such mobile devices with mapping functions as the iPhone serve as the map du jour, despite electronic glitches or poor area coverage.

"Online planners save time, but their use and use of paper maps should complement each other," says Jeff Holman, a 21-year cartographer and veteran of a major mapping company. "Each should be used for different things. Getting from point A to point B is better planned by technology, but to chart your trip, get a sense of place, and see the big picture, using a paper map is unchallenged."

According to Holman, the decline in paper-map usage also affects humanity in a more global sense. "I am concerned that the proliferation of technology has a potential to make us less geographically literate as a society," he rues. "There's no nefarious plot to this; it's the end result of the technology. People have less reason to look on a paper map. On a large scale, we know less about the world then we do now. I hope that there is still a place for the paper map in the world for both geographical literacy and as a planning tool."


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