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.]