MAPS V SATNAV
I’ve always loved maps. As a child I was entranced first of all by the business of unfolding them, opening them up, entering into the parallel world that they revealed. I knew that they had a function, to give direction, to relate space to space, but this wasn’t the initial attraction. For me as a child maps were stories, as yet unformed, but crying out to come alive. I began to draw maps of imaginary places, usually islands,and these islands had towns and villages, designated by little square blocks of habitation, accessed by red roads and blue rivers and situated on hatched seaboards. They were at first unpeopled, at least not with individuals; they were sufficiently alive not to need specific human beings. They had gazetteers, though, and tables of population statistics. Hotels and garages were important, too, because of their prominence in one of my favourite books: the AA handbook. Looking back, I think that the underlying function of these maps and their support material was to situate me in a mental understanding of the physical world. That achieved, I could introduce the human element.
Much later when I began to write I came to see the map as a valuable step in the process of creation. Once the physical world was in place I could move on to the organisation of the emotional world. Or was it the threat of potential chaos in the emotional world that needed rooting in the simple clarity of the map? Maps were, are, the basis from which stories sprung. They help me to shape the world, help to put me in control; they are a step in the business of interrogating my material. They offer choices and guide my decision-making. With a shaping device, a map, I can begin to organise my thoughts, to find my story’s place in the universe.
Satnavs do not offer this. Their functionality is essentially reductive. They give instructions and by doing so – if we obey – take over from us our need to choose. The jokey stories of satnavs taking hapless drivers hundreds of miles in the wrong direction may be seen as comments on the gullibility of the individuals themselves but they are also significant in that they flag up the destructive potential of technology. More importantly this abdication of responsibility robs us of the satisfaction to be got from addressing the map, unfolding it, interpretng it – and choosing.
Satnavs reduce, maps expand.