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But I miss paper maps!



A colleague and I were visiting about the need for print reference resources, when the subject of print atlases came up. "Do we really need them?" I asked. "We have easy access to GoogleMaps. GPS in our phones and cars. A million maps online. Aren't paper maps and the ability to use them sort of an anachronism?" 

"Oh, but I just love print maps!" she lamented.

And so do I. I have always loved maps. I own atlases. I have old maps framed and hung on my walls at home. I stop at the welcome center each time I enter a state to get its latest highway map. But I also recognize that I may be the last generation who so loves print maps.

And print books. And turning off one's cellphone now and then - and prefering talking to texting. And using a keyboard. And having a desktop computer. And getting a newspaper delivered to my door each morning. And enjoying with my grandchildren picture books that don't always sing and dance. And attending F2F conferences and meetings and inservices. And hanging on to a host of analog things that are now digital.

I constantly ask myself if a change - print maps to digital maps and GPS - is truly negative or if it is just uncomfortable to me as someone who grew up analog, now being shoe horned into a digital world. 

My sense is that a knee-jerk reaction either approving or rejecting a digital way of doing something is dangerous - and that any new medium will have both its benefits and its weaknesses which may not be known for years. But I am inclined to try the new and especially to accept that the new for me is the de facto experience for our students. 

Here there be dragons, indeed.

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Reader Comments (5)

I am not convinced that paper maps have been replaced by digital maps. Anecdotally, large-format maps still appeal to people ages 12-18 who want to see BOTH the overview and the detail on one "screen." Kids in grades K-5 still enjoy "mapping" their communities on paper maps, again because a paper map allows for greater detail on a larger "screen" (a poster board) than anyone can have available right now.

Might we have large-format roll-up aluminum touch-screens someday that completely replace the utility (both in terms of information display and of _art_, which has its own value to young users) of poster-sized paper maps for all users? Maybe. But I do not believe we are there, yet. For now, I think we do a disservice to younger users when we believe that we derive utility from large, print maps that they do not.

I don't have time to consider the other examples you give but I suspect that print and digital formats may be complementary in some (if not all) of those situations, too. I've seen readers react very differently to the print and digital copies of the Leviathan series because its illustrations seem to invite greater engagement in the print format, for example.

March 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJody

My parents drive everywhere with a laminated atlas of all the 72 counties of Wisconsin. It's funny what a communication disconnect there can be between generations. Both sets of grandparents don't always have their cell phones available when watching our kids, which is harisy to us. To them, it's something that doesn't necessarily cross their mind.

I did have an annoying experience with my iPad the other day. Wanted to finish up Embedded Formative Assessment, but my battery was dead. Those fancy paper books never need to be plugged into a wall!

March 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNathan Mielke

Hi Jody,

I agree completely with everything you said. My only concern is that with zero-based budgets, we often have to choose between the old and the new. When doing so, I just hope we consider that we might be holding on to the old out of sentimental reasons, not real attributes of the older media.

Thanks for the thoughtful comment,


Hi Nathan,

Well, the damn iPhone is the first cell phone I don't dare forget at home. I resisted having a cell forever and when I got a regular one it spent most of its life in my car.

I think the reason I read more on the Kindle than the iPad is because its battery life seems to last forever. Why don't these things use solar power like the calculator that I've owned for 20 years without thinking about it needing a battery?


March 6, 2013 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

I love paper maps, too, but I also love my GPS and Google Maps and Google Earth and all the digital resources on mapping. For me, it's all about context - I can sit and pore over a paper map, looking at things in relation to one another without having to scroll across or down or zoom in and out. But if I'm traveling, it's lovely to have someone telling me when and where to turn so I can watch the scenery instead of the map. On the other hand - looking at a map while traveling might bring up some interesting side places that would not otherwise be discovered!

I think they both have room in our world!


March 11, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSusan Tanner

Hi Susan,

I agree with your approach and both is the ideal. Unfortunately when it comes to supplying information to students, purchasing both becomes impractical and we have to make choices.

All the best,


March 11, 2013 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

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