Moving Forward

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"U.S. Air Force dependents watch a flight tracking map that is tracking a 355th Fighter Squadron, 354th Fighter Wing aircraft, with Airmen." Courtesy the National Archives and Records Administration.

Today, travelers in the United States still use maps for familiar navigational purposes, but the maps they consult differ greatly from their counterparts centuries (and even decades) ago as they have been enhanced greatly by digital technologies and electronics.

The rise of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and computer-based mapping shifted the static nature of older maps to a state of persistent revision and enhancement, making maps dynamic and more reliable. Geographic Positioning Systems (GPS), which allows users to locate themselves on a map using a personal device, offer precise tools for work and pleasure and are found in everything from phones to cars. The new geographic technologies have improved many aspects of modern life: online maps that serve as business directories and provide point-to-point directions by car, bus, or bicycle, flight maps that assist computer pilots and entertain long-distance air travelers, urban mapping applications that can identify crime, gas prices, and apartment rentals, and specialized research mapping solutions capable of providing insight into oceanographic trends and weather patterns.Despite specializations and specificity of the many types of maps available, they continue to be tools American use with passion. Most apps in the second decade of the 21st century, like FourSquare, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, have built in location-sharing systems, mapping our every move and enabling us to track our friends and our own whereabouts and to find our way through the digital and physical world at any moment. No longer are maps something we simply use; they have become a part of us.