The end of the paper map? Surely not!

 "I think we should go here, here, and here."

You can probably imagine this road-tripper’s response to a recently-discovered story about the death of a map shop in Indianapolis. After running their shop for almost 30 years, Tim and Dayle Gravenstreter ran the Odyssey Map Store, where shoppers could browse through maps numbering in the thousands that would guide travellers through hundreds of countries around the world.

“I’ve met so many wonderful people,” Dayle Gravenstreter told me one autumn afternoon before they shuttered their doors for good. “African cab drivers who point out where they’re from on the map, a lot of military families, people going into the Peace Corps,” she said. “Everyone has a story and I’ve enjoyed listening to them all.”

There’s something about maps that appeals to us—the promise of discovery, of places to roam. Now, of course, we seem to see maps most often as decor, as any two-minute to Pinterest will testify. Though most folks rarely use a paper map anymore, preferring instead the guidance of a GPS, we can’t seem to resist their allure.

Yearning. Texas, Route 66, USA. Photo copyright Jen Baker/Liberty Images; all rights reserved.

Your GPS has NO idea where this is.

Of course, that preference for new technology has led to the shuttering of Odyssey:

Customers planning major family trips had been the core of Odyssey’s business, but in its last remaining years, those people stayed home to do their research on the computer. Map collectors became the primary base, but antique globes and reproductions of 17th-century seafarers maps couldn’t keep the doors open. Dayle pulled one of the reproductions from the shelf, lovingly pointing out specific details, like the scary-looking sea monster trolling the southern Atlantic Ocean. Besides the map’s aesthetic appearance, she just likes the feel of it in her hands.

“I like to see things on paper, to get that larger view that you can’t get from a GPS screen,” she said.

Dayle lamented that many younger people might never know the pleasing heft of an atlas or the musty smell of an old glove box map; that old technology is no match for the instant gratification of a Garmin’s lifeless drone telling you where to turn.

Dayle and the article’s author, Rob Annis, are correct. Having a paper map or atlas will not only serve you well if you end up in a dead zone (or if there’s a cataclysm of some sort), but the old-school explorer version gives you a big picture. Though we do have a GPS, for the road trips we take, we never use the darned thing; it’s paper maps, map books, and atlases all the way unless we need to find gasoline or coffee Right Now. Besides, it’s just plain fun to pull over, spread the map against the dashboard, and figure out which way to get where we’re going.

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