Absolute location versus relative location
Imagine that you’re lost Down Under and asked passers-by for directions. One erudite individual responds to your query with, “Sydney Opera House is 31 degrees South and 152 degrees East.” That wouldn’t be much help would it?
A more helpful person might happen by and tell you that the Opera House is on Bennelong Point in Sydney Harbour, close to the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Maybe then you’d find your way. That’s the difference between absolute location and relative location: relative location is far more confusing than absolute location.
The relative location details the location of a destination in relation to another destination, landmark or point. So when we say that the store is “just around the corner” or “opposite City Hall,” we’re describing relative location. On the other end of the spectrum, the absolute location details the location using an accepted coordinate system. The full absolute location appears as follows: 47°12’ North, 6°5’ West.
Absolute locations are described in a shorthand form that is indexed to the lines of latitude and longitude. The line of latitude runs parallel to the equator and measures the distance of a point north or south of the equator in degrees, minutes and even seconds.
The line of longitude runs perpendicular to the equator (from north to south) and describes a point according to its angular distance East or West of the Greenwich Meridian or Prime Meridian. Therefore the longhand absolute location for 47°12’ North, 6°5’ West is 47 degrees, 12 minutes North of the Equator and 6 degrees, five minutes West of the Greenwich Meridian.
Relative locations are understandable because they are relative to points to which most persons can relate. They can be described in relation to streets, cities, landmarks and other available references. Naturally, these are informal and not in a standardized form, since there are several different ways to describe locations of any one place using relative location.
Coordinates are imaginary lines that are very useful for navigation systems and those who use maps – among other uses. However, while absolute locations are more precise and standard, relative locations are informal, not standardized and more understandable in many cases.