Monday, March 10, 2008

A New Cartography to View the World

An old Robert Kaplin article "The Coming Anarchy" has a section entitled "Lies of the Mapmakers." A good point of the section that traditional maps do not do an adequate job showing what I call overlooked spaces (like slums), unofficial de facto areas, contested places, and mixed areas.

Standard cartography like the one Kaplin complains about lead to a flawed perception of the world. New technology and new ways of thinking are the only way to rectify this error.

New Thinking

When the developers of Delta Force: Black Hawk Down were designing the action game they consulted actual Somalia veterans on whether or not the game captured the "feel" of Mogadishu. Designers were shocked that veterans said the environment did not feel like the actual slums even though designers used detailed maps. What the developers left out were slums. When they added slums into the game the combat veterans gave their blessing.

Slums and shantytowns in India, Brazil, and elsewhere play a huge rule in health, social, political, and the personal lives of millions. Planners of everything from infrastructure to military operations use maps to create proposals and remind the world of the situation on the ground. Overlooked areas need to be map so a more accurate outlook on the world can be gained.

Geotechnology Can Aid in New Thinking

New and old geotechnology can aid in the new cartography. GIS allows for layering. The layers can be used to overlay contested place. Transnistria, Tamil Eelam, Northern Cyprus, and other de facto places can be shown as both separate and part of their respective countries.

3D graphics is especially suited for the new cartographic thinking. Google Earth can have heat maps either attached to the ground or have the data hover above the Earth. The maps can represent, for example, loss of control of a neighborhood. This allows both "politically correct" data and "ground truth" data displayed on top of each other easily viewable by the user.


In this chaotic world we commonly hear how students cannot locate certain countries on a map. The problem is not location memorization is lacking per se but that students do not know spatial data. Mapping overlooked and contested places will better help to understand local and medium-range geography better. With better knowledge on those levels, people can become more knowledgeable citizens.


Kris McCracken said...

That is a very interesting thought. It isn't something that I've encountered, but it does make sense that it would happening.

I'd love to see comparisons between 'new' and 'old' versions incorporating the missed information.

Laurent Jégou said...

Thanks for this post, wich resonated with recent readings for me, about "invisible" reality and how we could map it. I've cobbled some ideas into a post on my own blog (sorry, in french only, i'm working on a bilingual version) :