is an exercise in perceptual mapping.
It can also be an exercise in futility.
Consistent elements are replicated
in these hand-drawn maps. Students
generally identify their home state
and those states immediately adjacent
to it. They consistently identify the
states at the four corners of the United
States — Maine, Florida, California,
and Washington. Invariably, Texas
creeps into the picture. Then things
get weird. Western states are portrayed
as squares and rectangles while the
Northeast is relegated to a jumble of
miniature squiggles. New England and
the Middle Atlantic states are often
displaced from a locational standpoint
or are displayed with incorrect shapes
and sizes. Another consistent element
are the gaps that appear as students
attempt to display the arrangement of
states on the map.
Numerous factors come into play
when students attempt to translate
locales, both near and far, into a two-dimensional format.
Most maps were constructed using a
landscape orientation. Consequently,
the country tended to be stretched
along an east-west plane. The East
Coast is often artificially elongated
along a north-south axis, and the
western states are truncated around
the West Coast. Students occasionally
employed a portrait orientation in
constructing their maps, which results
in the shape of the United States being
compacted on an east-west plane with
the West Coast being elongated in
a north-south direction. States with
distinctive shapes (Oklahoma, Texas,
Idaho) tended to have these shapes
effectively replicated on student maps
regardless of any distance
RON SHAKLEE ( Youngstown State University), vice president for the North Central Region, is professor and chair of the
Department of Geography at Youngstown State. Chapter president for Chapter 143, he’s also served on several Society award
committees. Shaklee, a Caribbean geographer with a research focus on historical weather patterns, annually takes students to
the Bahamas on a study abroad experience.
As might be expected, the students’ home state of Ohio was the most commonly
identified state portrayed on student maps. Its shape also was replicated with
a consistent degree of accuracy. As the distance from the student’s home state
increased, state shapes were more frequently portrayed as squares or rectangles, if
they were displayed at all.
Students occasionally engaged in displays of directional dysfunction when they
inverted the relative locations of North and South Dakota or portrayed the two
states with a side-by-side orientation. They frequently reversed the locations of
New Hampshire and Vermont. In several cases, students depicted the paired states
of West Virginia and East Virginia. A not uncommon idiosyncrasy was for Rhode
Island to be portrayed as an island (invariably the location coincided with that of
Long Island, New York), and Washington, D.C., was depicted at a much grander
scale than befits its 68-square-mile dimensions. Students occasionally showed a gap
between Ohio and Kentucky, indicating a possible image of Ohio as a ”northern”
state and Kentucky as a ”southern” state and an accompanying need to show some
degree of separation between the two.
Back to our original discussion of how we perceive Earth and how we remember
the elements associated with it. It is something of a contradiction. Global
positioning satellites and their land-linked navigational devices allow us to freely
find our way across unfamiliar landscapes, but take away the context provided
when we are actively engaged in that navigation, and we are less inclined to make
note of the elements through which we pass. Consequently, instead of relying on
our ability to reverse course on our return trip, we must employ that same device to
chart our return route. Perhaps even more importantly, by relying on our GPS to
navigate through the landscape, we lose our sense of situational awareness.
Most devices allow us some choices such as to the most direct route, or a route
that uses mostly interstate highways. They don’t provide a qualitative assessment of
the landscape that we traverse or the neighborhoods that we might pass through
along the way.
Are our intellectual skills diminished by technology? I suspect not. Hopefully, it
allows our intellect to be redirected toward the enhancement of other skill sets.
While technology may allow us to more readily perceive the big picture, it also
allows us to overlook the component parts. We are missing the spaces in between.
For works cited: go to www.phikappaphi.org/forum/spring2017