These days, it feels like I'm one of an increasingly small group of old-style navigators. With mobile phones ubiquitous among everyone except me, and with the integration of web-browsing and specifically Google Maps functionality into modern phones, there's increasingly less necessity for people to carry physical maps around with them.
Or, at least, it seems to me that there's the increasingly common perception that that's the case. As that perception becomes cemented in society to an ever-greater extent, we unwittingly provide ever-greater opportunities for us to get into trouble. I started thinking this through after watching a video by Tom Scott, an Ignite London presentation about how flash mobs can stumble into horrific things. It's embedded below - I seriously recommend that you watch it. Sure, it's a story, but one with real teeth - ten or fifteen years ago, it would've been firmly science fiction.
In Tom Scott's tale, the sudden arrival of hundreds of mobile-using flash mobbers crashed the local network, and its transformation into a flash riot may have been precipitated - at least in part - by all of these people who had got there by following directions on their phones, and in the absence of those internet-based geographic tools had no idea where they were in relation to what they were familiar with, and no idea how to get out. That's a frightening situation, that. Ignorance feeds fear, and when fear gets high enough, rationality goes out the window.
Nevertheless, navigation by mobile phone is not the problem. In fact, for many people it's a godsend; some people aren't able to hold a coherent map in their heads, and in cases like that phone-maps fall into the niche of "external brains" that's been batted around in science fiction for decades. No, the problem is choosing to get around with phone-based navigation in an unfamiliar area and not having a backup plan.
For me, it's relatively simple - I find the nearest transit stop and board the first bus that presents itself. While not all bus routes in Metro Vancouver link up with the SkyTrain, the network's extensive enough that even without a guidemap I'd be able to blunder my way to familiar territory eventually. The biggest issue I have with mobile phones is my perception that they've begun to influence thinking at a cultural level, that they may help lead to a seat-of-the-pants culture where things are dealt with only as they arise.
I may be wrong. I hope to be wrong. Nevertheless, whenever I go out I'll always make sure I have that map in my backpack.