Paper Maps vs. GPS vs. Personal Directions

Noting that “a device can be precise without being accurate” and contemplating the possible effects the simultaneous rise in digital maps and a decline in the use of paper maps could have, John McKinney looks at some studies comparing the efficacy of different navigational aids:

Studies by the British Cartographic Society show that high-tech maps get the user from Point A to Point B but leave off traditional features such as historical landmarks, government buildings and cultural institutions; this could lead to a loss of cultural and geographic literacy, the august body warns. […]

A study comparing paper map users versus GPS users […] found that people on foot using a GPS device make more errors and take longer to reach their destinations than people using an old-fashioned map. (Although an earlier study […] suggested GPS bettered paper maps in improving driving efficiency.) […]

[Another] study found GPS users made more stops, walked farther and more slowly than map users and demonstrated a poorer knowledge of the terrain, topography and routes taken when asked to sketch a map after their walks. GPS users also adjudged the way-finding tasks as much more difficult than did map users. Those proving to be most proficient at navigation turned out to be those shown the route by researchers — they bested both map and GPS users by striding to destinations faster and with fewer missteps.

via The Browser