The End of the Map

OnTheMap“Among the many mistakes found in Apple Maps was a rather elegant solution to the continuing dispute between Japan and China over the Senkaku islands. Japan controls them; China claims them. Apple Maps, when released, simply duplicated the islands, with two sets shown side-by-side—one for Japan, one for China. Win-win. (At least until the software update.) Call it diplomacy by digital dunderheadedness.

As some may recall, it was not so long ago that we got around by using maps that folded. Occasionally, if we wanted a truly global picture of our place in the world, we would pull shoulder-dislocating atlases from shelves. The world was bigger back then. Experience and cheaper travel have rendered it small, but nothing has shrunk the world more than digital mapping.

In medieval Christian Europe, Jerusalem was the center of the world, the ultimate end of a religious pilgrimage. If we lived in China, that focal point was Youzhou. Later, in the days of European empire, it might be Britain or France. Today, by contrast, each of us now stands as an individual at the center of our own map worlds. On our computers and phones, we plot a route not from A to B but from ourselves (“Allow current location”) to anywhere of our choosing. Technology has enabled us to forget all about way-finding and geography. This is some change, and some loss.

Maps have always related and realigned our history; increasingly, we’re ceding control of that history to the cold precision of the computer. With this comes great responsibility. Leading mapmakers used to be scattered around the world, all lending their distinctive talents and interpretations. These days by far the most influential are concentrated in one place—Mountain View, Calif., home of the Googleplex.”

–Simon Garfield, The End of the Map

Garfield is the author of On the Map: A Mind-Expanding Exploration of the Way the World Looks

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About GilPress

I launched the Big Data conversation; writing, research, marketing services; http://whatsthebigdata.com/ & https://infostory.com/
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