In Appreciation of Google Maps

 

I use Google Maps nearly every single day. Some days it’s for productive reasons, some days it’s for entertainment. If someone mentions a place I’ve never heard of, I explore it on Maps. Traveling? I browse Maps looking for places to eat, landmarks, unique shops, etc. Need to measure the distance between one place and another? Maps. Need to count the blades on the cooling tower fan behind the power plant I help manage? Maps. Need help surveying open areas or where utilities may be able to be constructed? You guessed it.

I haven’t even mentioned Google Street View. James Lileks calls it the “greatest documentary project of the 21st century.” I think that might be underselling it. I can spend countless hours virtually traveling the world, through distance and time.

What a powerful tool Maps is. I wonder how much economic benefit the economy has gained from this service. It has to be immense.

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  1. DonG (CAGW is a hoax) Coolidge
    DonG (CAGW is a hoax)
    @DonG

    Preston Storm: greatest documentary project of the 21st century

    Imagine being in one of the planning meetings.
    Person 1:  we need a way to improve the positioning information and road data.
    Person 2: we could use vans to drive on every road and map wifi points and take pictures.
    Manager: are you high?  We can’t drive on every road in the country!

     

    • #1
  2. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    It is a great service

    • #2
  3. Preston Storm Coolidge
    Preston Storm
    @PrestonStorm

    DonG (CAGW is a hoax) (View Comment):

    Preston Storm: greatest documentary project of the 21st century

    Imagine being in one of the planning meetings.
    Person 1: we need a way to improve the positioning information and road data.
    Person 2: we could use vans to drive on every road and map wifi points and take pictures.
    Manager: are you high? We can’t drive on every road in the country!

    Unfortunately they haven’t drove EVERY road. 

     

    • #3
  4. Jim Chase Member
    Jim Chase
    @JimChase

    Perhaps, but it still creeps me out when every month they send me an email to show me that they know where I’ve been.  Price of convenience.

    • #4
  5. D.A. Venters Member
    D.A. Venters
    @DAVenters

    Preston Storm:

     

    What a powerful tool Maps is. I wonder how much economic benefit the economy has gained from this service. It has to be immense.

    No doubt about it.  Just the other day I used Google Maps to find my way to an auction at the old McNally mansion.  For some reason, they were selling everything off there real cheap.  Got a good deal on a protractor and a pencil.

    But seriously, it is incredible and a huge benefit.  I have to admit, though, I often miss the old days when my wife and I would travel around, without a care in the world, and I kind of enjoyed getting a little lost and having to use my wits to find the way back.  I don’t have many natural gifts, but a good sense of direction was always one of them.  Now, it’s about as useful as an old horseshoe.

     

     

     

     

     

    • #5
  6. Richard Easton Coolidge
    Richard Easton
    @RichardEaston

    Yet another offshoot of GPS.

    • #6
  7. Preston Storm Coolidge
    Preston Storm
    @PrestonStorm

    D.A. Venters (View Comment):

    Preston Storm:

     

    What a powerful tool Maps is. I wonder how much economic benefit the economy has gained from this service. It has to be immense.

    No doubt about it. Just the other day I used Google Maps to find my way to an auction at the old McNally mansion. For some reason, they were selling everything off there real cheap. Got a good deal on a protractor and a pencil.

    But seriously, it is incredible and a huge benefit. I have to admit, though, I often miss the old days when my wife and I would travel around, without a care in the world, and I kind of enjoyed getting a little lost and having to use my wits to find the way back. I don’t have many natural gifts, but a good sense of direction was always one of them. Now, it’s about as useful as an old horseshoe.

     

     

    National Review Charles C. W. Cooke said on a podcast that one thing he does miss is the unknown of traveling somewhere new. Today, If you’re like me, you’ve already been there several times before getting out of your driveway.

    • #7
  8. JustmeinAZ Member
    JustmeinAZ
    @JustmeinAZ

    It creeps me out to think of someone driving by my house and taking pictures. Or using drones to get an overhead view.

    I was happy with foldout paper maps.

    • #8
  9. Jim McConnell Member
    Jim McConnell
    @JimMcConnell

    I sometimes wonder how I found my way to a destination in a strange city in a rental car with just a Hertz map.

    • #9
  10. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    D.A. Venters (View Comment):

    Preston Storm:

     

    What a powerful tool Maps is. I wonder how much economic benefit the economy has gained from this service. It has to be immense.

    No doubt about it. Just the other day I used Google Maps to find my way to an auction at the old McNally mansion. For some reason, they were selling everything off there real cheap. Got a good deal on a protractor and a pencil.

    But seriously, it is incredible and a huge benefit. I have to admit, though, I often miss the old days when my wife and I would travel around, without a care in the world, and I kind of enjoyed getting a little lost and having to use my wits to find the way back. I don’t have many natural gifts, but a good sense of direction was always one of them. Now, it’s about as useful as an old horseshoe.

    You can still do that.  Just because Google Maps exists doesn’t mean you have to use it.

    • #10
  11. Preston Storm Coolidge
    Preston Storm
    @PrestonStorm

    kedavis (View Comment):

    D.A. Venters (View Comment):

    Preston Storm:

     

    What a powerful tool Maps is. I wonder how much economic benefit the economy has gained from this service. It has to be immense.

    No doubt about it. Just the other day I used Google Maps to find my way to an auction at the old McNally mansion. For some reason, they were selling everything off there real cheap. Got a good deal on a protractor and a pencil.

    But seriously, it is incredible and a huge benefit. I have to admit, though, I often miss the old days when my wife and I would travel around, without a care in the world, and I kind of enjoyed getting a little lost and having to use my wits to find the way back. I don’t have many natural gifts, but a good sense of direction was always one of them. Now, it’s about as useful as an old horseshoe.

    You can still do that. Just because Google Maps exists doesn’t mean you have to use it.

    I have no self-discipline! 

    • #11
  12. Kephalithos Member
    Kephalithos
    @Kephalithos

    Yes. I’m not sure what I’d do without StreetView — or how much less I’d know about architecture. When I was a kid, I always relished the rare backroad drive. I loved looking through the car window at the little hamlets which dot the Midwest. I remember dreaming once about teleportation — how I could see all the interesting things the world had to offer. Who knew that my dream would more or less come true?

    Google needs to die, but Google Maps should live on. I’d gladly pay for a subscription, if it came to that.

    • #12
  13. D.A. Venters Member
    D.A. Venters
    @DAVenters

    kedavis (View Comment):

    D.A. Venters (View Comment):

    Preston Storm:

     

    What a powerful tool Maps is. I wonder how much economic benefit the economy has gained from this service. It has to be immense.

    No doubt about it. Just the other day I used Google Maps to find my way to an auction at the old McNally mansion. For some reason, they were selling everything off there real cheap. Got a good deal on a protractor and a pencil.

    But seriously, it is incredible and a huge benefit. I have to admit, though, I often miss the old days when my wife and I would travel around, without a care in the world, and I kind of enjoyed getting a little lost and having to use my wits to find the way back. I don’t have many natural gifts, but a good sense of direction was always one of them. Now, it’s about as useful as an old horseshoe.

    You can still do that. Just because Google Maps exists doesn’t mean you have to use it.

    Yeah, but it’s not the same if I can just turn on the phone and get out of it. It’s more of a thrill if there’s real risk, you know. (But not too much risk. It’s one thing to do this in the wilds of Idaho. It’d be quite another in Rwanda or somewhere like that.)

    • #13
  14. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    D.A. Venters (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):

    D.A. Venters (View Comment):

    Preston Storm:

     

    What a powerful tool Maps is. I wonder how much economic benefit the economy has gained from this service. It has to be immense.

    No doubt about it. Just the other day I used Google Maps to find my way to an auction at the old McNally mansion. For some reason, they were selling everything off there real cheap. Got a good deal on a protractor and a pencil.

    But seriously, it is incredible and a huge benefit. I have to admit, though, I often miss the old days when my wife and I would travel around, without a care in the world, and I kind of enjoyed getting a little lost and having to use my wits to find the way back. I don’t have many natural gifts, but a good sense of direction was always one of them. Now, it’s about as useful as an old horseshoe.

    You can still do that. Just because Google Maps exists doesn’t mean you have to use it.

    Yeah, but it’s not the same if I can just turn on the phone and get out of it. It’s more of a thrill if there’s real risk, you know. (But not too much risk. It’s one thing to do this in the wilds of Idaho. It’d be quite another in Rwanda or somewhere like that.)

    One thing I found when I left Arizona last year is that if you rely on cellphone GPS rather than satellite, there are many parts of the country where you get no data.

    • #14
  15. Chuck Thatcher
    Chuck
    @Chuckles

    JustmeinAZ (View Comment):

    It creeps me out to think of someone driving by my house and taking pictures. Or using drones to get an overhead view.

    I was happy with foldout paper maps.

    I know more than a few that simply can’t use a paper map.  Their loss.

    And you know what? I simply refuse to use Google in any way, shape or form.  (I probably do but I don’t know it.)

    • #15
  16. Chuck Thatcher
    Chuck
    @Chuckles


    kedavis (View Comment)
    :
    One thing I found when I left Arizona last year is that if you rely on cellphone GPS rather than satellite, there are many parts of the country where you get no data.

    Here I am in Tennessee and it is not at all uncommon to receive phone calls from someone that has been misled by GPS and so can’t find my house. (No, I don’t live in the middle of a vacant pasture.)

    • #16
  17. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Chuck (View Comment):


    kedavis (View Comment)
    :
    One thing I found when I left Arizona last year is that if you rely on cellphone GPS rather than satellite, there are many parts of the country where you get no data.

    Here I am in Tennessee and it is not at all uncommon to receive phone calls from someone that has been misled by GPS and so can’t find my house. (No, I don’t live in the middle of a vacant pasture.)

    There are still areas of Google Maps and driving directions that are wrong, to say the least.  It’s been getting better over time, but of course that happens faster in more populous areas.

    But there are pretty large swaths of several states that have no cell phone service, and without cell phone service, you don’t get WRONG information, you get NO information.

    If you want to use the Google Maps info and directions, and you’re going to be passing through areas with no cell phone service, you should print out the maps and directions first.

    • #17
  18. Paul Stinchfield Member
    Paul Stinchfield
    @PaulStinchfield

    Chuck (View Comment):


    kedavis (View Comment)
    :
    One thing I found when I left Arizona last year is that if you rely on cellphone GPS rather than satellite, there are many parts of the country where you get no data.

    Here I am in Tennessee and it is not at all uncommon to receive phone calls from someone that has been misled by GPS and so can’t find my house. (No, I don’t live in the middle of a vacant pasture.)

    “Your GPS is wrong”: Sign nailed to tree at entrance to very long rural driveway.

    • #18
  19. Jimmy Carter Member
    Jimmy Carter
    @JimmyCarter

    When I was a kid, I had nothing but My Truck and a globe to find My way around.

    How many millenials could fold a map?

    • #19
  20. sawatdeeka Member
    sawatdeeka
    @sawatdeeka

    My kids were outside with at least one of their grandparents when the van drove by. So when we look up the grandparents’ address, we see an old picture of the kids out on the lawn. 

    Aww, I just checked it, and it’s been updated. 

    • #20
  21. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Yes, the Street View and Satellite images don’t remain static.  Hopefully the older ones are archived somewhere, but I don’t know how you would access them.

    • #21
  22. Preston Storm Coolidge
    Preston Storm
    @PrestonStorm

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Yes, the Street View and Satellite images don’t remain static. Hopefully the older ones are archived somewhere, but I don’t know how you would access them.

    Street view has a little time line at the top you can drag to go back in time.

    • #22
  23. kedavis Member
    kedavis
    @kedavis

    Preston Storm (View Comment):

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Yes, the Street View and Satellite images don’t remain static. Hopefully the older ones are archived somewhere, but I don’t know how you would access them.

    Street view has a little time line at the top you can drag to go back in time.

    Sometimes it’s… plagued by circumstances… too.

    A couple weeks ago I was using Street View to check out the new construction on a Jr High School that I attended back in the early 70s.

    I went up and down the “main” street in “front” of the school, and saw the new building.  But as soon as I went down a “side” street, suddenly the view reverted to the old building.  Right in mid-block.

    Turns out that during construction, the “side street” had been blocked off.  So the only “street view” images from that street, were of the old building.  Until they have chance to drive their camera-cars down it again.

    • #23
  24. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    Kephalithos (View Comment):

    Yes. I’m not sure what I’d do without StreetView — or how much less I’d know about architecture. When I was a kid, I always relished the rare backroad drive. I loved looking through the car window at the little hamlets which dot the Midwest. I remember dreaming once about teleportation — how I could see all the interesting things the world had to offer. Who knew that my dream would more or less come true?

    Google needs to die, but Google Maps should live on. I’d gladly pay for a subscription, if it came to that.

    Interesting how one thing leads to another. I was reading a geology book a while ago, and the author said the information geologists have gained from roadcuts has been immense and free! :-) The next time you see a group geologists hanging around a road excavation, they could be students from your local university. :-)

    Architecture would be a wonderful field to be in today with the internet to help. I’ve read quite a few architecture books, and it’s really wonderful to be able to see the actual buildings in photographs posted on the internet. 

    I think it’s cool that over the course my lifetime so many individuals and organizations have posted material on the internet just for the sake making it available for others. How generous to give their time to people they will never know. All of the Adams and Jefferson papers are posted on the internet for anyone to use. MIT posts all of its course materials on the internet for free public access. Cornell has posted an incredible amount of material from their law school. I use their law website all the time in my own work. It’s beautifully done. And their ornithology website is just amazing. It’s one of the best resources on the internet. 

     

    • #24
  25. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks
    @jameslileks

    Jimmy Carter (View Comment):

    When I was a kid, I had nothing but My Truck and a globe to find My way around.

    How many millenials could fold a map?

    Dude, I grew up with those things, and folding one correctly is still like folding a fitted sheet.

    • #25
  26. James Lileks Contributor
    James Lileks
    @jameslileks

    kedavis (View Comment):

    Yes, the Street View and Satellite images don’t remain static. Hopefully the older ones are archived somewhere, but I don’t know how you would access them.

    It’s in the upper-left pane. If there are older versions of the Street View, there’s a slider with dates. If you’re checking out a small town and see a vacant lot downtown, you can often slide left and find a blurry version of the old citizen that stood on the lot ten years ago.

    I spend a lot of time looking at the ravaged old downtowns on Google Street View. The record of America they have assembled is unparalleled. It may be the most inadvertently philanthropic thing they’ve done. 

    That said, it could all be memory-holed tomorrow. And who knows how we’ll know if they . . . alter things. 

    • #26
  27. Jimmy Carter Member
    Jimmy Carter
    @JimmyCarter

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    Jimmy Carter (View Comment):

    When I was a kid, I had nothing but My Truck and a globe to find My way around.

    How many millenials could fold a map?

    Dude, I grew up with those things, and folding one correctly is still like folding a fitted sheet.

    How many times did You stop, and felt obligated to buy a $.25 pack of gum before asking the store clerk for directions?

    • #27
  28. Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. Coolidge
    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr.
    @BartholomewXerxesOgilvieJr

    I remember the first time my wife and I planned a trip to — well, anywhere. We joined AAA and used their “TripTik” service, which was basically the pen-and-paper version of Google Maps navigation. We got a custom-printed map of our route, marked up with a yellow highlighter, showing how to get from our house to the hotel. But of course if you strayed from the route, you were pretty much on your own.

    We’ve visited Japan twice in the last decade, and I honestly have no idea how people managed in that country before GPS navigation. The confounding thing about a city like Tokyo is that most streets don’t have names. Addresses there are essentially based on numbered blocks, and then numbered buildings within each block. The numbers are more or less arbitrary, so if you have no idea where a particular business is, the address (by itself) will not help you find it.

    By using Google Maps, I was able to research every location we wanted to visit, and even use Street View to memorize landmarks. Before we even left home, I already knew how to walk from Shinjuku Station to our hotel, without consulting my phone at all. I honestly don’t know how visitors managed in the old days; I guess you just had to ask somebody for directions.

    • #28
  29. Bryan G. Stephens Thatcher
    Bryan G. Stephens
    @BryanGStephens

    Bartholomew Xerxes Ogilvie, Jr. (View Comment):

    I remember the first time my wife and I planned a trip to — well, anywhere. We joined AAA and used their “TripTik” service, which was basically the pen-and-paper version of Google Maps navigation. We got a custom-printed map of our route, marked up with a yellow highlighter, showing how to get from our house to the hotel. But of course if you strayed from the route, you were pretty much on your own.

    We’ve visited Japan twice in the last decade, and I honestly have no idea how people managed in that country before GPS navigation. The confounding thing about a city like Tokyo is that most streets don’t have names. Addresses there are essentially based on numbered blocks, and then numbered buildings within each block. The numbers are more or less arbitrary, so if you have no idea where a particular business is, the address (by itself) will not help you find it.

    By using Google Maps, I was able to research every location we wanted to visit, and even use Street View to memorize landmarks. Before we even left home, I already knew how to walk from Shinjuku Station to our hotel, without consulting my phone at all. I honestly don’t know how visitors managed in the old days; I guess you just had to ask somebody for directions.

    It is my understanding that business cards used to have maps on them.

    • #29
  30. Chuck Thatcher
    Chuck
    @Chuckles

    James Lileks (View Comment):

    Jimmy Carter (View Comment):

    When I was a kid, I had nothing but My Truck and a globe to find My way around.

    How many millenials could fold a map?

    Dude, I grew up with those things, and folding one correctly is still like folding a fitted sheet.

    You had to go and mention folding fitted sheets, didn’t you?  I quit really trying years ago, now they get a lick and a stab and I doubt anybody can tell they are anything but just a balled up mess.

    But I can fold a map, yes I can!

    • #30