On Being Lost Without A Map

Before I had a smart phone, I relied entirely on Google Maps to get me from Point A to Point B. This was no easy task, especially considering that I had just moved to Greeley, and knew nothing of the Northern part of Colorado. There are countless stories of how I ended up in towns I couldn’t tell you the name of, on roads that ended, and two lane high ways with some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve seen. Of course, I ended up in those situations because a printed web page of Google Map directions failed to get me to where I needed to be. In that moment, I had no map, much to the dismay of my father, who keeps an atlas of Colorado and of the United States in his car at all times.

There was nothing telling me where to go, which roads lead where, or how I had come to find myself driving two hundred miles out of the way. And that was okay. I eventually made it to where I needed to be, and in the process, created my own mental map of the area. Now that I have the technology, though, I rely heavily on the apps on my phone to take me to where I need to be.

This conversation makes its way back to what I consider one of my favorite topics: power. As Sarah wrote about earlier in the semester, Google has a type of monopoly on the services the internet provides currently, and maps is no exception. For some reason, through some algorithm, Google has decided how I should get to a certain point. There’s no place for me to put in a preference for routes that include Sonic Drive-Ins or two-lane highways only. Google Maps will continuously reroute me while I’m driving to make sure that I take the fastest possible route.

But what if that’s not what we want?

And what if that’s not what we’re looking for?

Thus, we begin to see the confines and limitations of map apps that try to get us from place to place and further dictate how we experience our world. Just as with time, the mapping of roads, towns, states, continents, the world, is an oppressive construct that’s meant to make us see the world in a certain way. A 2D image of a 3D object is going to be morphed and out of proportion. Just like with any other text, there is a way to read, see, question, and interpret maps. Some maps show Africa being small, while many cartographers point out that it is actually larger than most maps portray it being. This article explains and shows well how the image of maps is distorted through the transfer from 3D to 2D.

When thinking of maps in the classroom, though, this image first came to my mind:


Growing up, I remember seeing this map in classrooms and not thinking twice about it. I never considered that the United States wouldn’t be in the center of any map.

This is what gets back to the center of what I believe teaching should be: questioning and being critical. Teaching students to be critical of the things that they see and asking good, solid questions, should be at the heart of pedagogy. Looking at the way that others map literary texts is no different.

Without a doubt, there are benefits to teaching students how to map out a text. Creating a class map of the town Maycomb for To Kill a Mockingbird, or the routes that characters travel through their text, can help give students a solid grounding for what the world looks like in the book. Students who do not build worlds in their heads like movies when they read are at a disadvantage to those who are able to construct that image in their heads. While I read books, I am able to see these roads, build up what the world of the novel looks like in my head, and travel with the characters. But not everyone is able to do this. So while I am critical of mapping and the way that we decide what gets put on the map and what doesn’t, I still can acknowledge the value in teaching and creating maps with students. Especially if the lesson involves telling stories of how I am consistently lost and not-lost, and how it is perfectly fine to not always follow the instructions of Google Maps.



2 thoughts on “On Being Lost Without A Map”

  1. I agree with your point of view about maps not being able to display all of the real complexities in the world. We must account for traffic, road closures, changes in geographical architecture, and any change or obstacle that may come up. I also found it very funny that you pointed out that you depended on GPS and not paper maps and now we have even more technological capabilities with our phone GPS systems. I think we may all depend on GPS too much, and it may be inhibiting our abilities to use our brain for a sense of direction. Maybe we should trust our memory and our sense of street names, numbers, and patterns instead of relying on GPS because of its “convenience.”


    1. I agree. Also, I don’t know about you, but I have been lost in places that are places I know because I’m more focused on using my GPS than I am on my actual surroundings. Or, like in _The Office_ when Michael drives into a lake because the GPS tells him to. Technology can hinder just as much as it can help, I suppose!


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