Cartography for the Masses


Evan Ratliff has a fascinating feature in Wired about the unfolding effects of Google Maps, Google Earth, and their user-generated add-ons. Here's the wrapup:

"Mapping has always been a tool of dominance," says Michael Goodchild, the UC Santa Barbara geographer. "There is no such thing as an objective map." It's no coincidence, he says, that the last golden age of mapmaking was the colonial era, when cartographers were dispatched to catalog western Europe's conquests around the world. James Rennell's maps weren't just an effort to understand India; they were a means to show, as he once said, "the advantages that may be derived from our territorial acquisitions."

Today the power still lies in the hands of the map makers. The only difference is that we're all mapmakers now, which means geography has entered the complex free-for-all of the information age, where ever-more-sophisticated technology is better able to reflect the world's rich, chaotic complexity. "Once you express location in human terms, you get multiple places with the same name, or political issues over where boundaries are, or local differences," says David Weinberger. "As soon as you leave the latitude/longitude substrate, you get lost in the ambiguous jumble of meaning. It's as close to Babel as we get."

[Via Lew Rockwell.]

NEXT: Good News from the Court

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  1. I got mine yesterday, very cool cover with me on it. The first 10000 entries of a jpg photo of themself got to be on their copy’s cover. Too Cool…

  2. Jesse Walker,

    FWIW, the literature on geography and colonialism is pretty interesting.

  3. Grotius –

    FWIW, the lierature on the history of cartography is pretty interesting as well.

  4. Ignore the second part of my moniker there.

  5. Michael Goodchild? Shouldn’t that be Michael Airhead? The golden age of mapmaking is now, because maps, like most things, have been getting better and better all the time. Please, let’s send Dr. Goodchild back to the pre-colonial era on the first time machine available, when and where he will perchance expire in agony from smallpox.

  6. The coolness of mapping and satellite imaging technology has gone steadily downhill since its pinnacle, when Reason sent me an issue with the cover having a photo of my own apartment.

  7. The golden age of mapmaking is now, because maps, like most things, have been getting better and better all the time.

    Right. Like, say, movies. I mean, the special effects and action in Armageddon or Con Air are way better than Metropolis – which wasn’t even in color, fer Chrissakes. And say what you want about New York Minute, at least it had an ending, unlike L’Avventura. Truly a golden age we live in.

  8. And here I was thinking he meant “last” as in “previous.”

  9. Do professional cartographers still include deliberate errors in their maps? It would seem harder to get away with that. (Or is that just an urban legend?)

  10. I studied cartography in college, and it was a fascinating topic. Much more about content than about technique, which even in the pre-Internet era wasn’t all that difficult. BTW, the cartography types I’ve known have that “engineering personality” and would probably suffer physical pain rather than commit a deliberate error.

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