Maps and Legends

Space the final frontier. These are the voyages of … ah, you know the rest. Exploration and the idea of frontiers seem to capture an important part of the human experience. The possibility of finding something new, of entering uncharted territories excites people. And, although one may want to keep the secret of the Northwest Passage or the Straits of Magellan a secret, sooner or later a map is created to increase the amount of benefit that can be extracted from the discovery. Yet with the world seeming to collapse into one connected place, the role of maps has changed. In short, maps are a new frontier for property and privacy.

As Jacqueline Lipton noted Google Maps has enabled the persistence of race discrimination. Google Maps has also spawned some other curious creations and connections. For example, I wrote about the flap over what is a true IMAX screen and that folks put together a map of IMAX screens with information about the screen size. The H1N1 (aka swine) flu epidemic revealed an interesting dual use for maps. One person created a frequently updated map with information about claimed incidents. I was curious about the source and found that one person at, what else, a bitotech company focused on recombination and disease, was behind the map. In addition, a group called Health Map seeks to offers a map that connects “disparate data sources to achieve a unified and comprehensive view of the current global state of infectious diseases and their effect on human and animal health.” On the light side, Total Film has a feature that uses Google Street view to show 25 favorite film locations.

As seems always to be the case, folks will probably soon argue about who owns what. The more interesting point might be the way maps show the malleability of information. In some hands, maps show fun things like where a film was shot. In other hands, maps provide useful epidemiological information. Yet, certain home owners may not be pleased about having tourists show up to gawk at what had been a quiet abode. Cities, counties, and even states may be upset if lay people assume that suspected or even confirmed outbreaks mean they should create a de facto or quasi-quarantine. Last, knowing where specific racial, religious, and other groups are can all too easily lead to mob behaviors.

The information mill churns. We have to sort it out. Old tools have new impacts. Today maps pose challenges. Tomorrow it will be something else. I am never certain that the law is the best way to manage these changes. Nonetheless, we have to consider what they are and how they function in case the law is asked to do so. On that note, please share any other creative and/or challenging uses of maps of which you are aware.

Last here is a little music for the trip:

Maps And Legends – R.E.M.