As I was driving around the Midwest yesterday, a couple of questions came up that several of us discussed for quite a while.

Do people still stop and ask for directions?

The conversation started as we were driving through St. Louis and a scene from National Lampoon’s Vacation flashed through our heads. You know the one . . . Clark gets lost in St. Louis and stops for help.

You go half a block down the street and you’ll see a Torino.

Inside that Torino is my cousin, Jackie.

Tell him that you’re my boy and that you’re lost.

He’ll make sure you get where you’re going.

You don’t want to know from me. I’m not from this neighborhood. I’m from the west side of Chicago, here on vacation.

Of course, the stereotypical male never stopped for help in the first place. But, in the age of Google Maps and Bing and online tools, does anyone ask for directions?

We’ve got maps in all sorts of digital forms – Google Maps, Google Earth, Bing Maps, maps on cell phones, maps on iPods. So . . . it seems if the need to stop and ask friendly strangers for help may not exist anymore.

But that discussion led to a series of other questions.

Is there a difference between a mental map created from a two-dimensional map such as a traditional paper atlas vs. the mental map created by online, digital forms? And is the mental map created from using 3D tools such as Google Earth better or worse than the one created by traditional methods?

It seems “easier” to create a mental map when I can associate Street Views and Bird’s Eye Views and all sorts of maps layers with a specific place. Does the brain work differently to create a mental map when it has to work “harder” using a traditional 2D paper atlas? And if it does, is that a bad thing?

We’re all supposed to be training kids to use mental maps and a variety of geographic tools. So the real question came down to:

What tools should we be using?

Perhaps the best answer?

All of them.

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