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Never lost again: Thoughts on the Google Maps revolution

No one after us, no generation to come will ever be lost in the way that every generation before wax


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Tealfeed Guest Blog

3 years ago | 3 min read

Last spring I was lucky enough to receive an advance copy of Bill Kilday’s Silicon Valley memoir Never Lost Again: The Google Mapping Revolution That Sparked New Industries and Augmented Our Reality. Unfortunately, by this time the book had been in publication for nearly a year and would sit, for several additional months, upon the mountain of unread books in queue on my bedroom night stand.

Credit: HarperCollins Publishers

Fast-track (or rewind, depending on how you look at it) to late Christmas day 2019 when my wife and I jumped in the car for a multi-state, holiday road trip. After a short debate on audiobook vs. podcast—supplemented by the need to stay entertained during long stretches of southern highway with two kids glued to their tablets—we decided to give the audio version of Kilday’s chronicle a shot.

Never Lost Again opens with the author’s recollection of getting lost on the convoluted highway system of Boston, where he lived and worked during his pre-Google Maps days. “Somehow I got turned around on my way home,” Kilday wrote. “In frustration, I pounded my fist against my car’s dashboard, yelling at nobody but myself, while driving five miles in the wrong direction… looking for the next roundabout.”

The introduction quickly reminded me of the numerous misdirections and missed exits of my early driving days. The frustration and fear that came with the feeling of being lost in an unknown territory. The shame one felt due to their inability to follow along with the MapQuest turn-by-turn directions that had been carefully researched and printed out the day before a trip. The anxiety of pulling over to ask for directions at a gas station. And so on.

Following along with Kilday’s precise recollection of a small startup’s moonshot effort to map the entire physical world, while simultaneously embarking on an adventure in a post-Google Maps world, made me realize how much I underestimate the impact technology has on our ability to comfortably step into the unknown.

As we traveled through state after state I became more aware of my ability to trust that I was on the right path to my destination; my comfortable ignorance of where I was, how far I had traveled, and how much of my trip remained. All of this information was only a glance, or a tap, away.

I realized that, aside from all of the features and integrations, the real value that Google Maps provides is comfort: Faith that I will never truly be lost.

Illustration by Ouch.pics

“We are the very last generation to ever know what it was like to be lost,” I heard as we searched Google Maps to find an area to stop for food and gas. “And no one after us, no generation to come will ever be lost in the way that every generation before was.”

Not only did Google Maps dramatically change our view of the world and transform how we find our way in it, but it created a platform that spawned billions of dollars in commerce and life-changing services. Without its easy-to-use mapping system we wouldn’t be able to call a Lyft, order takeout through DoorDash or groceries through Instacart, research reviews on Yelp, or book a hotel through Trivago or a flight through Priceline.

While GPS navigation followed a convoluted path to obsolescence—an industry that became as quickly outdated as the maps on its devices—Google Maps brought the entire world to us. “All over the world today, people are landing in New York or Tokyo or Cairo or even the Democratic Republic of Congo. Anywhere, they are stepping off of planes in a foreign land, in a place that they’ve never been, and guess what, they know where they are,” Kilday proclaims.

And even as augmented reality and self-driving vehicles begin again to change the way we travel, one can simply open a map at any location on Earth and be greeted with the ultimately reassuring message to weary travelers in the modern world: You are here

This article was originally published by Jon robinson on medium.

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