Geography in the news

Last week, as advertised on this blog, it was the RGS-IBG annual conference. Geographers from around the world gathered to enjoy papers from across the discipline. A series of sessions I didn’t mention below pertained to maps and the future of mapping. Some might argue maps are what geography is all about – I remember what friends used to say, “Isn’t geography just about colouring in maps?” Hilarious, but this week it became a serious question addressed at the IBG conference and more generally in the national press. Take this article from the BBC news website (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7586789.stm) entitled “Online maps ‘wiping out history'”. The digital era has enabled the creation of readily accessible maps online, customised to our interests, not to mention GPS technologies. But this is a serious question, has sat nav replaced the map? How has it impacted upon the ways in which people experience place? We can now zoom across computer generated landscapes with little need to refer back to the trusty road atlas or A-Z. But a few weeks ago, I experienced what it was like to have sat nav fail you, making a sorry beep and then shut down, we were half way to Martock in Somerset, stuck behind a zillion caravans, few roadsigns in sight, infrequent mobile signal and shock horror no road map. Crisis point. TomTom, it seemed, had also decided to go on holiday. We managed to regain a mobile signal, phone a friend for directions and make it past Stonehenge without too much trouble. The very next day we bought the new road map for 2009. Personally there is something comforting about the material presence of a guide that in many ways brings geography to life – from points of interest and labelled motorway junctions to planning routes and measuring with my fingers how far it is from home to where we are going. Long live the map.

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