Sunday, August 8, 2010

Future of Mapping

The future of mapping has a lot to do with the future of our world. Fifty years ago, if you wanted to go somewhere, you might have gotten the map out of the glove compartment, unfolded it, looked up a street name in the index and then found the section referenced by the grid coordinates. Nowadays you go to MapQuest, type in the address and away you go. The computer revolution has made mapping "accessible".

The computer was made possible, in part, by ubiquitous resources, especially energy. The resources that have fueled technology have come from the world around us, and, until recently, have not been replaced. In the past fifty years we have gradually come to realize, that if you keep taking and never give back, the well will eventually run dry. So of course, one possible scenario is that we dig those folded maps out of the glove compartment, get out of the car, and walk to where we want to go, because there is no electricity to run the computer and no gas to run the car.

The forests are disappearing, the oil is disappearing, the water is disappearing. If we know where, we can mitigate, substitute, conserve. Shortages will bring conflicts and more devastation. If we know where, we can mediate and negotiate. It is fortunate that the tools we have as a result of indiscriminate consumption, can actually help us learn to live in accord with nature.

Have all the maps been made? Not by a long shot. In fact the most critical maps for our survival have yet to be made.

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