Getting Lost

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My daughter is in driver’s education class, which is an exciting prospect, and she asked me to help with her homework.  She was asked to pick a route between two cities and use a map in her driver’s education book to figure out how many miles she would drive and how long it would take.  Her teacher had talked about laying a string along the route and measuring the string according to the map key.  “Just Google it,” I said.  She said that the teacher had told them not to use Google.  “Okay,” I said, just take the interstate.  She said that the interstate was not on her map.  I took a look at the book and sure enough, you could see the interstate leave the city and then get cut off on the map.  So, we kind of cheated.  We used Google to follow a path along the secondary roads that were shown on her truncated map.

Planning a trip is a necessary assignment for sure, but this old fashioned map and string stuff was really bugging me.  With Google Maps, a GPS on the dashboard, and turn-by-turn directions on your smart phone, you hardly need a paper map and you sure don’t need any string!  Modern times call for modern tools, but planning a trip is more than the use of tools alone.  You need sensible guidelines and your own critical thinking to plan a safe and enjoyable trip.  For my daughter, who was planning her first cross country trip, she needed to know basics like Interstate 235 is the circumferential highway that goes around a city and Interstate 35 is the highway that goes from city to city.  She also needed to know that getting onto a state highway will take you through every stop light and past every fast food restaurant in town (my apologies to William Least Heat-Moon and his book Blue Highways).  You also need to know that your paper map or your GPS might take you to the wrong end of town.

I learned how to travel by car when my only tools were a road atlas and the advice of friends.  All of that has changed for me.  Now I take trips today with Google and my GPS.  But I have to wonder about the travel skills and experience I bring along with me from the road atlas era.  Am I able to make good use of my electronic resources because of my “old school” experience?  Is my daughter missing anything in the digital-age of travel?  I’m not sure, but she will need a better map than the one in her driver’s education book.

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