Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Mapping - Fawcett-Tang & Owen

Fawcett-Tang R. & Owen W., Mapping: An Illustrated Guide To Graphic Navigational Systems,
RotoVision, Mies, 2005, 208 pp.
Although not every page from 'Mapping: An Illustrated Guide To Graphic Navigational Systems' is very relevant for our thesis, it is an interesting book. It certainly broadened my definition of a 'map' and therefore 'cartography'. So here I will try to broaden yours...

What is a 'map'?
The book gives a very broad definition to a 'map': "... They are figurative representations of dimensions, attributes and relations of things in the physical or logical world, reproduced at a scale smaller than life-size (usualy, but not exclusively). ... Mapping can be applied to ideas and information, to logical systems of philosophy, religion, science and taxonomy, and even to allegorical or fictional accounts of social and political relations. ..." (p. 10-12)

Even agenda's or calendars can be seen as 'maps', although they show no geographical information, they give a representation of 'time'.

The Inhabitable Map
Even our physical environment is in a certain way a 'map'. It is marked in many ways by objects, signs and symbols that exist only to 'map' it and help us 'read' the way. Orientation is not only provided by signs, but also by prominent buildings, like churches and skyscrapers. Painted lines or elevated and textured stones mark the boundaries of the street. But not all information is relevant for every user. For example tourist and residents need different information. Also someone traveling at different speed, like in a car, can't read the same information as a pedestrian. Clearly one 'signage system' can't serve every user. Nowadays digital technologies like smart-phones, Internet, etc. not only bring us closer to unique personalized maps for each user, but also to 'maps of map-readers'. Although we have to question the usability of those 'maps of map-readers', since it can't represent shifting interest or activities of an entire population. The ones who live in poverty or who don't possess a third generation mobile phone are being ignored.

An interesting example in the book is the project 'London Connections - Who got to know whom, where, when and how?' by Sandra Niedersberg. It's a mapping of her social network, during the time she was in London. The design is based on the 'six degrees of separation' theory. Niedersberg made a series of maps, each with the same names of people on it. The maps have different themes like work, home, school, etc. and therefore they all show different connection patterns between the names on each map.

'True' proximity
The conventional map shows us a certain distance between two places, measured in miles or kilometers. Is that information still relevant today? What is 'true' proximity when people are able to work virtually on their computer in their office from a computer at their home? In such case the travel distance and time between two cities disappears, totally irrelevant to the amount of kilometers or miles in between.  

"... Showing 'true' proximity of one place to another in a jet-turbined, video-conferenced and Internet-enabled world requires a similarly multi-dimensional understanding of space and time, logical and physical. For example, if we measured distance by the duration, availability and price of air travel between two locations, rather than miles or kilometers, London would be very much 'nearer' to New York than to, say, Athens; or we could measure connectivity not by roads, railways or shipping lanes - as my mid 1960 atlas did - but by the number of Internet users and ISPs, or the price of voice telephony, the number of mobile users per population, the connection speed and miles of optical fiber, the number of television stations. ..." (p. 117)

An interesting example where this 'true proximity' is being questioned is the project of the previous website for the Dutch High Speed Rail Line (HSL) by Lust: "... The concept for the interface is a matrix of points that symbolises points on a map and the distance between them. Since the arrival of the HSL, time and distance have become relative because of speed. Cities are drawn closer together: to a traveler, Amsterdam will be 'nearer' to Paris than to a southern Dutch city such as Maastricht. By the expansion and contraction of the points of the matrix, areas are created for the content of the website. This expansion and contraction relates back to the relativity of time and distance." (p. 71). 

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