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Don't forget your road map.
You're headed to a destination, whether you realize it or not.
“Do we have our current road atlas?” I asked as a friend and I set about packing up the truck for a week on the road.
Sure, I have a phone.
Sure, it has Google Maps.
Sure, it’ll keep us on the fastest route avoiding closures and tolls.
Sure, we’ll use it at times.
But I neither trust the phone to work in the clutch, nor Google to pick a route that I want.
Last night I had to drive up to a town about an hour away, to the northwest. I plugged the specific address in, and Google Maps choked. Couldn’t find it, couldn’t get a signal, couldn’t draw the map.
This is stupid. I’ve done road trips using just paper maps. Why do I use my phone so much, I thought. Screw it.
I pulled the cord out of the phone and reached into the back seat of the truck for the trusty Rand McNally 2023 road atlas, the same one that had recently helped get us down to Ft. Worth, Texas, and back again. I located the town I needed to get to, saw the necessary state highways, noted it all in my head, tossed the atlas in the passenger seat, and hit the road.
Google Maps creates a weird situation, a strange disability, I discovered, starting with how easy it was to revert to using it.
As the official Fred Noonan of the road trips (hopefully with much better end results), I try to follow along on the paper map regardless of whether Google Maps is working seemingly fine or not.
This is not a crazy thing to do. For one thing, if the phone craps out, you need to know where you are right away.
There are other reasons, though.
Sometimes, such as on that recent road trip, you discover points of interest that are not along the fastest route, but that change the tenor of your whole trip. Because I was following along on the road map, I happened to notice that the President Eisenhower Library and Museum were in Abilene, Kansas, and it was only 20 or so miles from our route. We went to it, and what we learned there about Eisenhower trickled into many of our other museum stops on that trip to the point we both mentioned it out loud. (That side trip also meant we took an alternate route to get back headed south that took us through Cawker City, Kansas, home to the world’s largest ball of twine, which was more interesting than you’d imagine it would be.)
But it’s more than just finding interesting places.
There are stories of people blindly following Google Maps and other GPS services into places they can’t go, places where there aren’t actually roads, or where the roads are service trails into the wilderness. Some people have died, driving out into the wild happily following a computer voice to their death. While Google Maps can certainly help you in so many ways, and even re-route you live based on the current speeds and reporting of other Google Maps (and Waze) users, it creates significant tunnel vision.
You lose sight of where you are going (looking ahead) and focus on where you’re at now (looking down).
As a flight student, I was told to stop chasing the pink line on the navigation system and look out the window and know where I was on the paper chart I had with me. When you focus on the navigation line instead of looking out the window, you start to go off course and then end up doing lots of overwrought course corrections to try to get back on the line. It would be better to pick a point off on the horizon that’s on course and focus on that instead.
With Google Maps, though, we’re encouraged to follow that line entirely.
Look at the line.
Listen to the voice that tells you what the line will have you do next.
That line will adjust to whatever route is best as determined by the activity of the other people on the road.
Wherever Google algorithms (and AI) decide you should drive, you do. Whatever neighborhood, whatever route, whatever road. That’s where you go. You put yourself, your vehicle, and everything with you in their hands. You turn off your head and mind and run with it.
If you’re not looking at your destination, do you really know what the destination is? And if the journey is as important as the destination, are you sure you want Google Maps or AI to define how your journey will go?
This is like life.
My roadmap is the Bible. The longer this journey I’m on goes, the more heavily I rely on it.
Sometimes the road has been lonely, bumpy, chaotic, and hard. The delay of gratification is real. Gas stations seem too few and far between. Rest stops aren’t where you need them. The route seems to take too long.
I trust the map anyway.
Oh, there are a lot of people out there suggesting better routes, faster routes, flashier routes, more direct routes, more pleasurable routes, less lonely routes, better destinations…if you’re headed towards hell, is getting there faster really all that great?
Whichever way the wind is blowing, whichever source of hot air and terrible advice moves the most mass—follow your heart! if it feels good do it! it seems right to me so it must be right! find your own truth! society has evolved! it’s just a different path but still valid! it’s my turn to have fun!—that’s what wins. And pretty soon, since everyone else is doing it and apparently having success in moving down the road, it becomes the recommended route.
There are a lot of unpleasant surprises on that journey, and for those who don’t realize they need a Better Map, and return to that Map, they aren’t even going to get to a good destination.
If you get off course, feel lost, think you’ve damaged your car and can’t go any further, get back to the Map. Its path is true.