IdlePhysicist

Navigation by paper >> Navigation by app

Date: 2021-01-20
Last Updated: 2021-01-20

FOREWORD: I should point out here that Google / Apple / Bing Maps, (insert mapping service here), can under favourable circumstances navigate one to their destination with limited fuss. But in my situation this was not the case.

Potentially this could be caused by my smartphone, or it might be my carrier, or the mapping / navigation app, or a combination of the above.

I’ve always favoured a paper map and real directions, this has made me somewhat of an outlier with my cohort of friends and generation as a whole. Now don’t get me wrong, online mapping services are a fantastic resource for locating the business you have an appointment at or finding potential new caves on rugged moors. But suffice to say that my alternatives to using Google / Apple Maps for navigation on some of my trips in college got funny looks from passengers who didn’t know me well. For instance when I drove on my first caving trip for DCU Caving Club I had looked up the primary directions for the route in advance and written them down on a post it note, which I stuck to the dashboard.

Smartphone grievances

In August 2020, I was heading caving from my new house, and I decided to trust in Google Maps, to navigate me along the suggested route. The route involved about 75km (46 miles) on back roads and then onto the main road (a National route, one step below Motorway). I only needed Google Maps for the back roads because the signage on the main roads would be enough for me. Well about 90 minutes later I was stressed, annoyed, and swore off using Google Maps navigation (when driving alone) permanently!

What happened to me was that my phone kept losing service, and of course Google Maps didn’t tell me when it lost signal. The app would say when it got signal back but then you wonder “have I been off course for 1km or 10km”? This came to a head for me when I got the following verbal instructions (I paraphrase here):

App: Signal resumed
*5 seconds later*
App: In 500m do a U-turn
Me: ffs

I have noticed that Android phone the navigation seems to work better. I had originally put this down to the iPhone not having a GPS chip, but my iPhone does have a dedicated GPS chip, so that cannot be it. I think a huge amount of my headache could have been solved if the Google Maps app had told me that the phone had no data connection.

Even when I lived in Colorado, and had perfect LTE signal in urban areas, I found that the long silences between navigation instructions was unnerving. This of course is not a problem with the app I was using but rather a psychological problem where I could not trust that the phone hadn’t lost signal or just spazzed out.

In October 2020, I parked in Clon. one Saturday morning and was approached by a man from the city (I assume) who was looking for Inchydoney Hotel, he stated that “Google Maps says I’m an hour and a half away” in fact he was about 10 minutes away, and four turns away. But when I said “hang on” and pulled an Ordnance Survey Ireland map from the glovebox the look of shock on his face was priceless. I had him on his way in 2 minutes, where as he would have been tearing his hair out rebooting the phone and cursing if he’d persevered with the smart phone.

I think that when you have a passenger to look after the smartphone while you drive, then navigation by app tends to go a lot smoother.

Where coverage doesn’t exist

I’ve been to many places in both Ireland and States where there is no phone service. For instance Killpecker Sand Dunes in Wyoming, where there’s a maze of dirt roads, and the signage is mediocre. It was there that I was glad of the Junior Certificate Geography map reading classes, and the Gazetteer road atlas that I had with me.

Until recently we didn’t have free EU roaming, and so when you went on holidays you didn’t have mobile navigation. This is how I grew up, reading a map of some foreign country for my dad on holidays. The year before EU roaming came in, myself and two friends inter-railed around France, Italy, Germany, The Netherlands, and Belgium with no mobile data. We did fine, and we were never lost. First stop when landing in a new city was grab a tourist map and voilá we were sorted. None of us had been to these cities before, but admittedly we had no real agenda and it’s always harder to get lost when you have nowhere in particular to be.

Closing thoughts

This new tech verses proven older methods could be argued until the end of time, and it is not merely limited to maps and navigation. In reality we are losing skills that 25 years ago we couldn’t have lived without. We see technology being introduced into classrooms earlier and earlier, but is it for the best?