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Sherman Says: All cartographers unite! Those paper road maps still serve a purpose

SPRINGVILLE — The use of GPS devices to provide turn-by-turn directions to motorists has grown far beyond what the last generation could have imagined. That technology has edged its way into our smartphones, leading some skeptics to pronounce the paper map as dead on arrival.

The distinct advantage a paper map still has over its electronic counterpart is the ability to see the big picture at a glance. Paper maps have a three-dimensional quality far superior to the flat chart visible on a screen that is no bigger than the palm of one’s hand.

The GPS can talk to you and provide a driver’s view of the terrain immediately ahead. But zooming out to see the surrounding area makes the details so small that they disappear.

Paper maps can be written on, allowing your personal notes to forever be part of the landscape. The words “Waffle House” and “scary bridge” are notations that come to mind.

Or, you can follow the lead of the old-fashioned AAA travel advisers, who would prepare a timely “TripTik” for members. Their chosen route was highlighted in yellow and a rubber stamp was employed, to mark areas subject to construction delays. The customized, folded map was made complete by a red spiral binding that allowed the pages to be flipped.

“New technology has been killing off older technology since the dawn of mankind,” wrote a columnist for “Remember this scenario? You’re lost on the highway, so you pull a paper road map from the glove compartment. After a few minutes of unfolding, you discover that the map is bigger than the car itself, which obscures your vision, causing you to drive your car over a cliff.”

The Asbury Park Press also recently chimed in, managing to overstate the obvious.

“Websites such as MapQuest© and Google Maps© simplified trip planning. Affordable GPS devices and built-in navigation on smartphones downright transformed it and transportation agencies around the country are printing fewer maps, to cut costs or just acknowledging that public demand is down.”

I am not alone in my affection for printed maps. Travel writer Sean McLachlan noted the following, before taking a trip to Ethiopia.

“Foldout maps give you a deeper understanding of the country and are things of beauty,” he wrote. “They also have the advantage that they still work if the power goes out or if you lose the signal, a common occurrence in some of the places I go, and they’re far less likely to get stolen.

“GPS, MapQuest and Google Maps are efficient ways to get you from point A to point B, but real travel isn’t about getting from point A to point B,” he added. “And that’s a fact no amount of technology will ever change.”

Paper maps are clearly becoming scarcer. What once could be acquired at the corner service station is now relegated to a corner of the travel shelves at trendy bookstores. I don’t remember if the Texaco service station attendant charged for maps, but they retained that rich, gasoline aroma, well after summer vacation drew to a close.

There will always be drawbacks to a print version of anything that is subject to updates or significant changes. New roads will be built, streets renamed and buildings constructed. However, paper maps and GPS devices can coexist in peace.

I like the fact that our GPS unit tells us the speed limit of the road on which we are driving and simulates the change from daylight to darkness. While it reminds me of an old Atari© video game, it is an important part of our modern motoring.

While we’re at it, who stashes gloves in those skinny dashboard compartments, anymore?

David Sherman is the managing editor of Bee Group Newspapers and a columnist for the Weekly Independent Newspapers of Western New York, a group of community newspapers with a combined circulation of 286,500 readers. Opinions expressed here are those of the author, who can be reached at

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