Are Paper Maps Going Out?

I was recently reading someone’s assertion that paper maps were on the way out, to be replaced fully and completely by electronic maps on mobile and desktop devices. The conviction with which it was said was striking in that the author thought it was terribly obvious that this was something that would happen very soon.

I do not think it is that obvious. It’s possible, sure. But just because a trend has been occurring in the recent past does not mean it will continue into the future. It reminds me of a friend who ridiculed a school-board for failing to allocate sufficient money for fuel (for school buses) in the upcoming year. This was at the time when gas prices had been increasing rapidly for several years and, because of that, he considered it obvious that the trend would continue at this same rapid pace. It didn’t. It turned out that the school board did have enough to cover fuel costs because the price of gas went down – much to most people’s surprise.

When the internet began to really catch on people were predicting paperless offices and publishing companies going out of business as books went digital. Do we read books on the internet and/or on our computers now? Yes – I was just reading portions of a book on Google Books just last night actually. Does that mean I only read virtual books and never the hold-in-your-hand variety? No. I am one of those people who still does a lot of her reading the old fashioned way. This is probably because I spend almost all of my day on the computer. Getting off the computer to read a book is a nice change.

I asked colleagues on twitter what others thought about the idea of paper maps becoming obsolete. Some of the responses were:

mstoddard: Paper maps are so useful as working maps in meetings. Easy to carry, mark up.

mstoddard: Yep. People like to gather around a map and talk. And mark it up.

briantimoney: We need good web tools to generate the cartographic equivalent of the 3 paragraph blog post.

sbixel: without paper maps how would the #GeoNerds of the world wrap their presents? cc @map_maker (map_maker uses old paper maps to wrap presents.)

fgcartographix: I still prefer a paper map when travelling too.

  1. #1 by Rich Ruh on December 20, 2010 - 7:30 pm

    BusinessWeek predicted the “paperless office” in 1975. I’m just saying…

  2. #2 by Gretchen on December 21, 2010 - 4:34 pm

    This comment hasn’t triggered the comment number to increase. Odd!

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