Limitations of Maps

If you read maps, it helps to understand that they come with 3 limitations –

  1. Perspective: To show us the information we see, maps trade off a lot of potentially useful information.
  2. The Cartographer’s bias: A map tends reflect the reality it wants to show. As an example, for the longest time, the maps of both India and Pakistan showed both countries possess disputed territory.
  3. The territory: One map rarely does justice to the territory.

So, how do we become better map readers? First, be aware of the biases involved. And, second, get multiple maps and triangulate to get the best understanding of the lay of the land.

Of course, this post isn’t just about reading maps of places.

When we walk into organizations and communities, we effectively look at maps of these groups from the eyes of the people we choose to meet and to follow. We follow our managers, community leaders and parents and see the world from their maps until we learn to build our own.

And, this is a reminder to follow the best practices of a map reader. But, also, as a cartographer who offers maps to others, it is on us to call out our biases and provide multiple perspectives to those who count on us.

H/T The Farnam Street Blog for the limitations of maps.