Paper maps vs. the smart phone…

Can you remember the days when a parent driving was asking you to quickly find a page in the street directory? Oh the arguments they used to cause… Those days are well behind us with “GPS’s in every car and a smartphone in every pocket” (S, Wroclawski. 2014). There is an extremely competitive global market for “telling you where you are and where to go” (S, Wroclawski. 2014). The reason for such competition is due to the fact that if you control the maps, effectively you have the power to tell society their place in the world. Nowadays, if you are asked to find directions from ‘A’ to ‘B’, the majority will go straight for Google maps, a ‘Geographic Information System’ -GIS. Many academics argue “no one company should have a monopoly on place” (S, Wroclawski. 2014). This is where the idea of counter mapping comes in.

Counter mapping is a term coined in 1995. It is ‘making people look at the land or places in different ways. Maps don’t just tell you where you are but who you are’ (N, Evans. 2015). For this to happen, “there is a growing importance of public participation in GIS”(M, Monmonier, 2007). A fabulous example of counter mapping at work is the company ‘Urban-Crawl’. The company works across a multiplicity of ‘disciplines, with artists deploying a range of tactics in their rewriting of the urban landscape’. They are recreating maps “to disrupt the notation that the city can never be understood as a totality”(C, Johnston. 2011). This process is the ‘democratization of mapmaking’ (N, Evans, 2015). Caleb Johnston of ‘Urban Crawl’ discusses how, “maps have long remained the language of power” (C, Johnston. 2011). Therefore it is important to bring this power back to the everyday person finding their place in the world via maps. Cartography is the study and practice of map-making, which is now stepping away from commercial and political interests and taking a “humanistic turn. A variety of recent publications reflect a dimension of cartography concerned more with the appreciation and enjoyment of maps than the more technological methods” (M, Monmonier. 2011).


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A further example of counter mapping at work was one that personally moved me and as a result, changed my European traveling experience. I was in Vienna, Austria where I came across a paper map in the hostel of the city. I originally had a list of the places I wanted to see in the city, and was ‘googling’ how to get from one to the next via public transport; I was dropping ‘pins’ on each point on my smart phone so it was available when walking around. The Wi-Fi cut out, so I looked at this map instead and decided to give it a crack. At the top of the map – ‘free map for young travellers made by locals’. It had tips on the side for ‘acting like a local’, it included a short square of ‘5 minutes of history’, it had the sights listed, the cinemas listed, cheap food listed, vegetarian and vegan food, shopping, coffeehouses, and finally a list of the clubs and bars. Alongside this information, it had a map of the city with the metro map imprinted over the top. On the other side of the map, it was a close up map of the city with a walking tour. The info about each building or sight was then briefly added to the map. This was my third visit to Vienna, and I got the most out of the city with this map. It was designed for students and young travellers; it had information that specifically, we require, like cheap coffee, vintage stores, best pizza and the food markets. It had interesting sights noted and not just your cathedrals and museums. I had never looked at a city in this way, and it was incredible. This paper map, I lived by, and it turned my 2-day visit into this incredible journey, opening up a completely different side of Vienna for me.

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Immediately I was hooked. The company that creates these maps is called ‘Use It’, which creates European tourist guides for young people. They explain their maps as “tourist info for young people: made by locals, no-nonsense and up-to-date”. They use artwork and great local advise, to completely alter the way to look at a city. You are essentially seeing it the way local young people do, and for a backpacker, this is what you aim to do, which is sometimes impossible, but not with ‘use it maps’. Now if I had of followed my iPhone that day, I never would have seen Vienna, the way I did. My advice, let the iPhone battery die, and take on the challenge of a paper map, it may just change your perspective and experience of a place for the better.

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BCM232: Blog 1: Counter Mapping – what does it teach us?

C, Johnston, 2011. Urban Crawl – Counter Mapping, Retrieved from,

Evans, N. 2015. Global Visions: Mapping the Planet. University of Wollongong, Wollongong, Australia.

M, Monmonier 2007, ‘Cartography: The multidisciplinary pluralism of cartographic art technology, and empirical scholarship’ vol. 31, no. 3, retrieved from,,1007898,1007899,1007900,1007901,1007902,1007903,1007897#

Strom, T 2011, Space, cyberspace & interface: The trouble with Google maps, vol. 14, no.3, retrieved from,

Wroclawski. (14/1/14). ‘Why the world needs open street map’. Retrieved from,


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