Kids Can't Read Maps and Why That is a Problem

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Along with rotary phones and cassette tapes, you can add maps to the list of things this generation’s children don’t know how to use. Britain’s Royal Institute of Navigation recently noted that the growing dependence on smartphones and GPS systems threatens the future for map reading and compass use.

Roger McKinlay, president of the Royal Institute, argued that society is being “sedated by software.”

The institute found that many children can’t read a landscape or an ordnance survey map, or navigate with a compass—let alone use the stars that have guided humans for centuries.

Although a great innovation, the reliance on signals and satellites poses a risk the moment a signal lags, batteries die or the GPS leads you “left” when “right” was the correct direction. Once that happens, even the most basic of navigation skills could help.

To address the issue, the institute urges schools to teach basic navigation techniques—maybe “survival skills” is a better way to pitch it.

Like most arguments about technological advancements, McKinlay and the institute see computers and GPS as a threat to human conceptual challenges, citing that a software “brain” is incapable of making connections and judgments. A software brain drives you off a cliff. A human brains tells you to turn around.

Tom Burson is a travel writer, part-time hitchhiker, and he’s currently trying to imitate Where in the World is Carmen San Diego but with more sunscreen and jorts.

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