Thursday, March 24, 2005

Mapping the future

I don't have the NewScientist subscription necessary to read The new pioneers of map making, but here are some comments from IFTF's Peter Dreyer, and some seemingly related issues come up in Honey, I Geotagged the Kids by Douglas Rushkoff.

Rushkoff begins by outlining the ways maps have changed over time, specifically in reference to what computing makes possible, and claims that "we can now truly see the way so many different things are -- or have been, or will be." (In searching the wikipedia, he must have missed the entries for map design and the map is not the territory.)

Nonetheless, he draws out other political aspects of cartography, or how mapping now has the potential to shift from an elite or specialist practice to one "allowing normal people to manage, present and create media with a geospatial component" which may in turn "revolutionize and democratize the process and practice of cartography."

He describes the locative media community as :

"a loose collective of hackers, writers, developers and wild thinkers ... committed to helping us make our associative maps more explicit and geospatially representative. If we could only collaborate on our mapmaking, these visual aids may just help us communicate better, and start to see some of our collective challenges from a shared frame of reference."

And despite agreeing that locative media may indeed offer revolutionary possibilities for wireless communications, Rushkoff doesn't see much interest from the mobile industry in things like low-cost access and open platforms. "Until locative media applications offer wireless providers or phone manufacturers a genuine competitive advantage in the way that, say, driving maps do, a future of collaborative cartography may have to wait..."

I don't know. I'm pretty sure that delivering potential consumers to advertisers would be considered a "competitive advantage" and, somewhat sadly, I've always assumed that commercial applications will be the first kind made widely available to the public. (In my dystopian imagination I see a city layered not with beautiful love stories but with a thousand corporate grabs for my attention.) But I also believe that our ideas about what "collaborative cartographies" mean will change and we will be challenged, yet again, to re-evaluate our assumptions about power, structure and agency. In other words, I still have hope.

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