Technology

Sat-navs and mobile apps 'threaten map-reading skills'

Man using Google map app in Sarajevo Image copyright Reuters

Map-reading skills are under threat because of a growing reliance on smartphones and sat-navs, experts say.

The Royal Institute of Navigation (RIN) said increasing dependence on technology means people are losing the ability to find their way by traditional methods.

The RIN wants schools to encourage the teaching of basic map-reading because few pupils can read one.

Its president, Roger McKinlay, said society is "sedated by software".

Mr McKinlay added: "It is concerning that children are no longer routinely learning at home or school how to do anything more than press 'search' buttons on a device to get anywhere.

Lost generation?

"Many cannot read a landscape, an ordnance survey map, or find their way to a destination with just a compass, let alone wonder at the amazing role astronomy plays in establishing a precise location.

"Instead, generations are now growing up utterly dependent on signals and software to find their way around."

The RIN believes that map-reading can develop character, independence and an appreciation of maths and science.


Analysis:

By Tom Heap, BBC Current Affairs

More than one in eight of the population now has a smartphone or sat-nav device which can deliver extraordinarily detailed knowledge of where we are - and how to get where we want to be.

This almost ever-present and powerful tool has meant many people no longer need to get to grips with a map in their daily lives.

Some would greet this as a blessed relief - bringing freedom from flappy paper, navigation anxiety and marital trauma.

The Geographical Association says digital navigation helps you to get somewhere, but fails to tell you anything about your surroundings.

But map skills are compulsory in GCSE Geography, a subject studied by around 30% of pupils.

And encouragingly for map lovers, after a decade of decline, paper map sales increased last year.

Read more from Tom Heap here.


RIN director Peter Chapman-Andrews told the BBC "technology must not replace thinking".

He warned that the Global Positioning System (GPS), used by many sat-nav and mobile map systems, "cannot always be depended on".

Mr Chapman-Andrews said: "We are not anti-technology. We encourage the use of technology, but the use of it intelligently."

Ordnance Survey, the UK's mapping service, said: "Being able to read a map will help you get so much more out of your time outdoors - whether it is walking, cycling, horse riding or touring."

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