Like the White Rabbit, I was late. Worse, I was well and truly lost.
My role in the program was to say a few words about our mission to bring business news to western Michigan, then introduce our publisher.
My error, it seemed, was one of misplaced faith: I had relied on one those online mapping services for directions.
So imagine my anguish when the instructions assured me I’d arrived at my destination, but what I could see out my windshield on that numbingly cold January-in-Michigan morning was one gas station and a defunct barbershop.
And, yes, the X that marked the spot for the conference center placed it smack in the cross hairs of an intersection.
By the time I found where I really was supposed to be, the publisher had introduced himself, attendees were already exchanging business cards and locating their car keys, and I was doomed for years to come to be tormented with lectures that began with, “As I said that morning in Muskegon, which if you had been there you would have heard….”
So since then I’ve come to a few conclusions about maps.
One is, successful employment of maps — things that instruct you in how to get somewhere, whether we’re talking about geographic maps or long-term business plans — has a lot to do with where you start.
James S. Aber, Emporia State University professor of geology, notes on his “Brief History of Maps and Cartography” website that maps have been in use since 2300 B.C., when Babylonians consulted clay tablets. (I wonder how they folded those chunky things to cram them into their glove compartments.)
Professor Aber also points out that where you resided, or where your philosophical bent was anchored, determined the heart of earlier maps. During Medieval times, for example, Jerusalem was depicted at the center, reflecting the period’s religious ardor.
This sort of egocentric perception, I suspect, explains why maps can show a tiny Greenland contrasted with, say, North America and Europe. Part of the reason has to do with distortions of size for cartographers as they shift away from the equator and closer to either pole.
Another excuse was that Greenland — though about a quarter of the size of the United States — is some 80 percent ice and, let’s face it, no one goes there anyway.
This “misrepresentation” even has a name — the Greenland Problem.
The Greenland Problem also might apply to, among other issues, the delay in having begun work on an Iowa-based health insurance exchange, an issue that will affect consumers as well as small businesses, health-care providers and insurance companies.
One can hazard a guess that Gov. Terry Branstad’s assumption was that a.) Mitt Romney would win the presidential election, and that b.) the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act thus would be repealed some day in the not-too-distant future. So who needs the fuss of creating an exchange, right?
Reality worked out differently, however, and 10 days after the election Branstad confirmed to the feds that, oh, all right, Iowa will build its own exchange.
He added, though, that yet more details for the interminably discussed, nationally debated, long-agonized-over program were needed to do the job.
Remember Y2K? What a phenomenal amount of gnashing of teeth there was in the run up to that big deal, too — about the increased costs, the overtime payments and indeed its actual necessity.
(You might also recall some talk about the whole “Y2K bug” being a conspiracy for global domination and/or for the End of the World as We Know It.)
But business large and small, once they figured out what was what and where they stood, put together their own plans — a road map, if you will — to mend their computers and systems applications.
Around $308 billion (in 1999 dollars) were spent worldwide. But come Jan. 1, 2000, airlines still flew in the sky, banks could account for their holdings and utility companies continued to provide light and heat.
A map works best when you know where you’ve started, and when you’re committed to getting somewhere.