Busy, busy, busy. There’s quite a lot going on at the moment here, and a number of potentially interesting topics that I ought to be blogging. Still, we did manage to get back out on the water and spank the lake some more, so in addition to another map-and-pictures travelogue of kayak paddling on Lake Conroe (at the end of this post), here’s a map-related story that came up recently.
The BBC posted a story online wherein Mary Spence of the British Cartographic Society complains that online maps are somehow wiping out history. The gist of the complaint is that since the basic map view of online maps provided by Google, Yahoo, Mapquest, and so forth are mainly diagrammatic street maps intended for little more than displaying driving directions, corporations are essentially “blankwashing” all kinds of other information away that occasionally cluttered-looking old-school maps printed on dead tree would have. For example, if you use a good physical map printed on paper to work out how to get from one place to another, you might spot a museum or monument or other noteworthy location that you weren’t specifically looking for, but might be interested in anyway. The driving directions from “Google Maps” show little besides the street names, highways, and city limits by default so you never see any of the potentially informative little extras that more traditional map formats might give you. There may be something to this argument, but then I got thinking. Ms. Spence says:
“Corporate cartographers are demolishing thousands of years of history – not to mention Britain’s remarkable geography – at a stroke by not including them on maps which millions of us now use every day.”
At this point I started getting quite irritated, because Ms. Spence has so readily accepted the internet as a “consumer” product.
I know I’ve said this before: many of us are not (and none of us should be) mere “consumers” of the internet, but rather participants. The internet is not television – or even books, for that matter. The internet is designed from the ground up to facilitate communication both to and from everyone who is connected. Strangely, Spence almost seems to get this. She does mention the solution to this alleged problem:
Projects such as Open Street Map, through which thousands of Britons have contributed their local knowledge to map pubs, landmarks and even post boxes online, are the first step in the fight back against “corporate blankwash”, she added.
I’ll take it a step further here. “The first step”? How about “the only step”! I don’t care how well-meaning a corporation or government agency is, there’s no way a centralized agency catering to a passive audience can possibly provide the kind of massive, eclectic geographically-tagged information that we active participants on the internet can add. Spence seems from this article to think of OpenStreetMap and other such projects as some sort of protest, not a “serious” project. In her mind, perhaps the goal here is only to shame the evil corporations into providing some more historical data on their maps, at which point the rest of us can stop working on “mere” amateur geography and go back to “consuming”. I hope I’m wrong.
And now, as a demonstration, here is some geographic information about kayak paddling on Lake Conroe in the region of the Sam Houston National Forest that I’ve added atop Google’s maps….