The big goal of OpenStreetMap and the various themed projects is to provide a free & editable map of the world, or something like that, which is great (and so is the progress). But altruism isn’t the only reason I’ve found myself continuing to edit and contribute for the last 18 months or so.
I suppose this is dependent on how and where you’re mapping. WIth the streets and major items filled out in my local area, I’ve moved on to the smaller things like addresses and sidewalks and even benches and picnic tables. That sort of stuff can’t really be done at typical driving speed, and it’s a lot more relaxing to just go for a stroll with a camera or notepad. I don’t know if it’s made a huge difference in terms of activity, but it sure beats watching TV on the couch. And it makes for good motivation - sometimes I can’t be bothered walking around the block a few times, but who knows what might be on an unseen street! Which brings me to another benefit…
Exploration & Awareness
Generally if I went somewhere in the past I wouldn’t dawdle - the journey was just time to kill until I got to the destination. Now though, even when I’m not directly mapping I’m more likely to take a different route, or see what’s down that side-street I’ve driven past hundreds of times but never actually needed to traverse, or pull over and take a look at the view instead of glancing out the car window. And though I’m still happy to let my mind wander on a good relaxing walk, I generally pay more attention to my surroundings, whether it’s an unsigned shortcut to the next street, or smaller stuff like “that’s a lovely garden” or “this would make a great photo”. Even on a larger scale, it’s a good excuse to go for a trip to a neighbouring town or park - not something particularly unusual, perhaps, but at least something I find myself doing more. And even if I get a little carried away or too far off the beaten track, it’s less of a problem, thanks to…
All that time looking at street signs and shop fronts in the real world, and digital maps on the computer later, has led to the expected result - I know my area a lot better than I did before. It’s just like most other skills, where if you just keep practising and spending time on it you improve, but I doubt I’d have spent nearly as much time “memorising” voluntarily otherwise. My mind’s-eye-copy is hardly perfect - I’m still terrible at most of the street names around here - but it’s handy to be able to have a pretty good idea of what I can buy where in town, or how to get from here to there in five different ways, or even just what’s over the next hill.
Oh, and knowing something I drew is on maps and websites all over the place is pretty nice too.