Technological innovations map out the future

The calendar I got for 2013 keeps staring at me, still in its cellophane wrap, making me feel a bit out-of-date.

The cover title, “Antique Maps,” which conveys a lifelong interest, now also expresses a redundancy. Maps have changed. The paper kind are outmoded. Maps are antique.

They used to intrigue me as a child because they held secrets to be discovered: What’s behind the red or blue lines, the green shading, once you get there in real time?

According to Michael Jones, Google’s chief technology advocate, in the latest issue of The Atlantic, the “major change in mapping in the past decade … is that mapping has become personal.” Whereas in the past maps remained static, today’s map changes depending on the person using it.

Take that map in your iPhone: You can get in close, look at the street you want to be on, even the house you’re trying to arrive at before you get there. The GPS in your car has different landmarks than your neighbors’: your job, your children’s school, your local hospital. Maps are no longer universal.

My iPhone map is not infallible, either, though. The other day it tried to take me to a bank in downtown San Jose several times before I realized it had the wrong address for the San Jose Repertory Theatre. Human intelligence does play into the equation.

In the Atlantic article, Jones predicts that soon we will hear a voice in our ears telling us to go left or go right, just like the lady in the car GPS does now.

The progression makes sense. But am I the only fan of those Triptiks that AAA still creates for long road trips, if you give them enough notice? What about the feel of a new map in a country you’ve never visited? That’s got to stir some enthusiasm.

Of course, having GPS or an iPhone map in Italy does make you almost Italian, a global citizen who knows what the natives know about the local geography. Jones makes a good point there.

And there’s one area that mapping technology has really improved. Google Maps has changed that perennial marital argument about who’s better at directions – you or him. At least I think so, although I’m no longer married, so I forget.

Contributing editor Eren Göknar is a journalist and lifelong traveler. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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