"Wealth will increasingly be defined by our ability to go offline whenever we want." - Fernando Gros
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Blog // Images
July 14, 2005

Mapping Reality

Many postmodern-oriented people I meet share a fascination with maps. Maps are interesting because they are attempts to capture or reflect the world in which we live, but often we simply do not experience the world in the way the map presents it. Partly, this is because maps often distort reality because of their own […]

Many postmodern-oriented people I meet share a fascination with maps. Maps are interesting because they are attempts to capture or reflect the world in which we live, but often we simply do not experience the world in the way the map presents it. Partly, this is because maps often distort reality because of their own technical limitations. For example, Future Maps gives us an equal are projection of the world that looks very different from the projections most of us grew up with in school.

More importantly maps capture a very simple view of geography as physical space. Perhaps the most common way to make maps reflect more of reality is to shade areas to represet important demographic features, like William Booth’s famous 1899 poverty map of London (I’ve zoomed in on my old neighbourhood). Even more interesting are maps that distort geography to re-represent important facts, like Vladmir Tikunov’s famous anamorphic maps of world GNP and renewable inland water supplies (though not all anamorphic maps are as creative). Moreover, cartograms of the 2004 US presidential elections have been a topic of conversation and debate on many websites.

But recently, I found a proposal (link now gone) to map reality in relation to journey times, which for a host of reasons is very interesting,

“We propose to construct an adapting map that represents the journey time between points in space, rather than their relative physicality.
This map would be personalised to its viewer: narrowcasting as opposed to broadcasting. This map would change its visual composition according to the viewer?s circumstances; are they walking? Are they in a car? Is it rush hour? A car journey may take 10 times as long in a trafic jam but the distance traveled remains constant.”

I’m not too wrapped up in the technology of this. However, the proposal is fascinating and called to mind some maps I drew in my London journals. It is a very revealing exercise to try to draw maps from your own memory and let your experience of the journies involved dictate the scale. Then, you can use colour, or size, or both to dictate familiarity with the places in your map. To push it further, try writing in the names of shops, churches, parks and other landmarks (if you like add names of shopkeepers or people you meet in those locations). Then, of course compare your map (which is just a sketch of the map in your head), with a “real” map.

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Responses
Willie Maartens 16 years ago

Hi Fernando, I find your views fascinating. Perhaps because they are basically the same as mine. I also had a fascination with maps since childhood. I preferred maps above all my toys. Luckily my parental grandfather as well as my father were both mining engineers and our house were full of geological and topographical maps. I later became a Topo-Cadastral and engineering surveyor myself as a consequence. My love of maps has only grown and grown through the years.

Fernando Gros 16 years ago

Hey Willie,

Thanks for your comment and for finding your way to this blog. I’m very interested in your book by the way. I’ve added it to my Amazon shopping list!

Willie Maartens 16 years ago

Hi Fernando, thanks man. I am glad that I did find your blog. It is quite a refreshing read.

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