Maphead: Chapter 11 Review – Frontier – By Evan Margiotta

Hello, my name is Evan M and I’m a freshman in APHUG. I was born here in Austin and have lived here my whole life. I have visited or traveled through most of the fifty states including Washington DC. I have travelled to Canada, Mexico, The Bahamas, Cuba, Belize, Cozumel, Nassau, and the Paradise Islands.

In chapter 11, Frontier, of Ken Jennings’ Maphead, Jennings describes the usage, history and future of cartography. He recognizes immense the benefits of online maps, and compares them to paper maps. He investigates “the thousands of assumptions and biases that undergird [maps]” (221). I had assumed those biases were limited to the decisions of what political features to mark (cities, informal regions), or what name to use for a certain place (Burma or Myanmar for example), and the balance between physical and political features/regions.  However Jennings points out it is impossible to have a proper flat representation of the world’s scale, area, and angles. The most commonly used projection for printed maps and, as Jennings points out, the projection Google Maps is the Mercator projection, a cylindrical projection which distorts the scales around the poles. “In fact, on such a map, the poles cannot be drawn because they are an infinite distance from the poles” (221).

Next, Jennings describes the pros and cons of GPS and the future of the mapping, including Google Maps, Open Street Maps and augmented reality. When researching the drawbacks of modern day maps, Jennings comes across a reoccurring theme in technological advances. He finds that although at first people are often skeptical or even scared of new technology, after time they wonder what they would have ever have done without it. With maps this came in the form of people being frightened of GPS always knowing where you are, and what this could manifest itself in (robbery, rape, etc.). However now we don’t even consider this as a drawback of GPS, it is one of the most amazing benefits of it. Jennings quotes the easy solution to the problems listed above with “Google’s famous ‘Don’t be evil’ motto” (228). Though a brilliant quote the Google motto does not gives specific pro reasons for the use of GPS/Mapping software like Google Earth. He describes how OpenStreetMaps, an open source mapmaker has helped in many areas such as disaster relief (the Haiti earthquake specifically). The ability for the modern map, like OpenStreetMaps to be updated so quickly is immense benefit to new online maps.

In finality, Jennings discusses the future of maps. He describes Google’s illustrious goal of having Google Earth have one pixel for every centimeter on earth. He warns however the loss of special awareness by describing a couple who drove two hours in the wrong direction because their GPS told them the island they were looking for was in a landlocked inland plane opposite of the direction of the way they should have been going. Though comical, this story creates a great point. Will the future of maps destroy people’s special awareness and sense of direction?

In reflection, the points Jennings makes about the future of maps are one of the most relevant subjects he speaks of. As usual, with ‘predicting the future’ it is hard gauge the accuracy of his predictions, but I was glad to see Jennings spent most of his time discussing the past and present of cartography. I was incredibly surprised do find the information about map projections.  For the most part, I, and I believe I can say this for most people, had very little knowledge of the distortion of these projections. I was surprised that the Mercator projection was so commonly used, when it had such obvious drawbacks. I can see the reasoning for using it for Google Maps, where preserving angles is important for roads. However for every day, educational use, I have trouble seeing any reasoning other than that egotistical, cold-war westerners wanted  to inflate their sense of self-importance while downsizing  the developing countries in the southern hemisphere. I also love the notion mentioned briefly here, but discussed in other chapters that there is no ‘top of the world’ (the northern hemisphere is not necessarily ‘up’ on a map) and that western bias most likely had a hand in the way we view the world now.

Jennings’ notions on the pros and cons of GPS, I believed were very accurate. I believe that not having experienced navigating without GPS destroys the need to have such special awareness and possibly one of the prevailing causes of examples like Jennings describes. This leads further to the notion that geographical illiteracy, especially in America, stems from the fact that studying and analyzing maps is no longer necessary to get from point A to point B. Instead of looking over maps and learning the route from point A to point B while picking up a little information on the location of point C and D, we rely on GPS/navigation/online maps to give us precise directions from point A to point B without ever learning about any other point or place. However as usual with technology it is a tradeoff. Though some people (not all) may lose their spatial awareness, what do they gain? And more importantly, is it worth it?



3 thoughts on “Maphead: Chapter 11 Review – Frontier – By Evan Margiotta

  1. I found your explanation very thorough and very descriptive of this chapter. I like how you separated each “Main Idea” into its own paragraph and gave the details of each one. I agree with you on your explanation, and thought that the way you talked about your opinions of the pros and cons of geography to be very accurate from my views of said subject. Finally, what do you think people gain from all this technology, especially in this situation?


  2. Your summary was very descriptive and I enjoyed reading it very much. I liked how when talking about the GPS you gave the example of the couple who looked for their island two hours in the wrong direction. my question for you would be do you think the pros for the GPS outweigh the cons, or vice versa?


  3. Hi, first of all, I would like to note that the organisation of this post is on point, very well done!
    I also agree with quite a few of the opinions stated in this as well. I think you are correct in the fact that with the addition of the GPS, most people are becoming less aware of where they are travelling and their surroundings. I as well was appalled to find out how inaccurate the Mercator Projection is, yet everyone still uses it. My inquiry would be why the “egotistical, cold-war westerners who want to inflate their sense of self-importance while downsizing the size of developing countries” would like to use this projection in our educational system (besides obvious reasons) if it’s so disproportionate and misleading, especially to kids that are learning everything from that one style of projection? Very well spoken, very well written!


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