Map Users as Consumers

Of all the readings for this week, Diane Dillon’s chapter “Consuming Maps” from Maps: Finding Our Place in the World spoke to me the most. Like many other people in the class, I am an almost habitual consumer of maps, including in any number of situations where map use really isn’t necessary or even helpful. My wife could probably recall all sorts of situations in which she was impatiently waiting for me in a parking lot in the middle of nowhere while I walked around trying to match the map in my hand to the street or road I’m actually walking beside–instead of getting back in the car and following the clear directions she printed off MapQuest.

One point Dillon makes over and over again is that when we look at maps as consumer goods, and at maps which were made to be consumed in some way, we need to consider the financial motivations of the map makers. There is nothing cynical or reductionist about that. Just as a 17th-century British map of North America showing the French crowded up in Canada and the interior devoid of native peoples served the interests of the British state by justifying British claims to land and implying that it was free for settlement, road maps distributed by gas stations not only encouraged car owners to drive more, and therefore use more gas, but also associated that mobility and freedom to explore with a particular brand of gasoline.