When I was a young lad, I read everything that Tom Clancy had to write. One book in particular was Red Storm Rising which was a door-stop of a novel envisioning what a Cold War turned Hot War European conflict would look like. It had many settings ranging from Germany (land invasion of NATO by USSR), to the arctic regions of Russia/USSR (naval conflict) to Iceland to the Atlantic Ocean.
During my initial read and subsequent re-reads of this novel I often wished I had a good map and globe so that I could see the geography described and understand the distances and geogrpahic barriers. I didn’t know where Keflavik was, or Murmansk, or any of the small German (then West German) towns where fighting was envisioned; I had to just move on in my head an concentrate on the story.
Now we have Google Maps. Which is wunderbar! Now you can zoom to any particular level to envision the conflict. You can look at the roads leading into towns and understand why it was a problem that the Soviets broke through there. You can see the distance from the north coast of Russia to Moscow. You can appreciate the Sea Lanes and why they’re important to a NATO task force escorting convoys. Google Maps allows for a geographic understanding that simply was not possible when I grew up in the 80′s.
I love it. Thank you Google.
Recently, I was reading the 1632 series by Eric Flint and Google Maps helped me to situate in my head the regions in Europe under discussion. Today, I was looking at Crimea because of the news from the Ukraine. Last week I was examining the route of the Iditarod. A few months ago I finally grokked the path that climbers use to ascend Mt. Everest. Last year I was reading about the Lewis and Clark expedition. Two years ago I was re-reading the Dies the Fire series by S.M. Stirling which has many important geographic components in the Pacific Northwest.
Google Maps has done more to increase my geographic sufficiency than pretty much anything, ever. I hope that schools are using these tools accordingly.